Synopsis by Josh Ralske
Isabelle Eberhardt dramatizes the tragic true story of the iconoclastic Swiss-born writer, who gained notoriety for both her lifestyle and her work in North Africa at the turn of the twentieth century. Eberhardt (Mathilda May) began dressing as a man and converted to Islam in her teens. As the film opens, she returns from the African desert to tend to her ailing father in Geneva. After his death, the wife of the Marquis de Mores summons her to Paris. The Marquis has gone missing in North Africa, because of Eberhardt's familiarity with the region, his wife pays her to go and track her husband down. Eberhardt settles in Algiers, where, hindered by the French authorities, she quickly gives up the search for de Mores, assuming that he's dead. She stays in North Africa, journeys frequently into the desert, and writes about her experiences for publisher Victor Barrucand (Claude Villers). The hard drinking Eberhardt meets Slimene (Tcheky Karyo of The Patriot), a Foreign Legion soldier, and falls in love with him. Through him, she makes contact with the secretive Sufi brotherhood of Qadriya. As she witnesses the abuses of the French colonists, her writings grow more political in nature and she starts to get more attention. One French military officer, Comte (Richard Moire) imprisons and abuses her. When an Arab swordsman viciously attacks her, Eberhardt holds Comte responsible. He eventually arranges for her deportation. But the resilient Eberhardt returns to North Africa, against Slimene's wishes. There, another French officer, Major Lyautey (Peter O'Toole) befriends her. He seems a decent man, but when he asks her to report to him on Arab groups hostile to the French, she wrestles with her conscience. Australian director Ian Pringle would later go on to produce Romper Stomper, starring Russell Crowe.