This is a slick new Moroccan film I saw recently, about three youthful petty thief layabouts in Tetouan and how they decide to go legit. One, the thuggish Allal, takes the Islamist route (which is legit for some, though not all); another, the protag Malik, falls in love with attractive hooker Dounia and seeks to settle down and leave the life of crime. But corrupt police inspector Debbouze, played by director Faouzi Bensaïdi, twists Malik’s arm to become an informer in return for releasing Dounia from jail, where she found herself after a police raid. And all sorts of problems for Malik ensue. The screenplay is not extremely original—as this review justly observes—but the film is engaging and with incontestable qualities (acting, camerawork, sociological interest).
A nitpicking remark: contrary to what this review says, Tetouan is not a port city. The seaside scenes in the pic were in Martil, which is several km to Tetouan’s east. The film being set entirely in Tetouan and Martil was of particular interest to me personally, as I was in both last month. Tetouan is well worth the visit if one is in that part of Morocco: the medina is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the new city that juxtaposes it was entirely built by the Spanish—as it was the capital of the Spanish protectorate in northern Morocco (1912-56)—, so has the character and feel of a city in southern Spain. And Martil is one of the resort towns on Morocco’s westernmost Mediterranean coast. It is not particularly interesting so far as beach resorts go except that the tourism along that stretch of coast—running north to M’diq and Marina Smir (due south of Ceuta)—is entirely Moroccan—middle and upper-middle class, and with many Moroccan immigrants in Europe home for the holidays, but hardly any Europeans—and with some of the Moroccan women in two-piece bathing suits, which one would not see among nationals in any other Arab country (Christian parts of Lebanon excepted and maybe a restricted-access beach or two in Algeria or Tunisia). Culturally speaking, Morocco is not the Middle East, Egypt, or—when it comes to the status of women—Algeria.
Most of the above paragraph admittedly has little to do with the film, which offers a representation of the bas-fonds in contemporary urban Morocco. For this reason alone—but in addition to its cinematic qualities—I recommend it. French reviews are good. Trailer (with English s/t) is here. Et voici un entretien sur France 24 avec le réalisateur (à partir de la 4ème minute).
Another Moroccan film I saw recently was ‘Rock the Casbah’—which is, bizarrely enough, the second film with this exact title I’ve seen in the past six months (the other was from Israel)—, by director Laïla Marrakchi, who did the 2006 hit pic, ‘Marock‘, the subject of which was Casablanca’s jeunesse dorée. This one, which focuses on the same social stratum as does ‘Marock’, is set and shot entirely in Tangier (where I spent two weeks last month). The story in brief: rich family patriarch, Moulay Hassan (played by Omar Sharif), dies—he’s seen in the movie in flashbacks—, which brings the whole family together for the funeral, and with the usual family histoires one gets at such gatherings. The mainly female cast is stellar; it is, in itself, a draw for the film. The Israeli-Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass (whom I’ve seen in at least 15 films over the past decade) is Moulay Hassan’s wife, Aïcha, and who has three grown daughters, two of whom live in Tangier—Mariam (played by Lebanese actress/director Nadine Labaki) and Kenza (the Moroccan-Spanish-Belgian Lubna Azabal)—and one in New York, Sofia (the rather beautiful Moroccan-American actress Morjana Alaoui), who’s married to an American—and with a kid who speaks neither Arabic nor French—and arrives in Tangier en catastrophe after many years of absence. There was a fourth sister in the past but she committed suicide under murky circumstances that are revealed in the film. Sofia does not get along with Mariam or Kenza and there are issues with her mother, and all sorts of stuff comes out while they’re supposed to be mourning their deceased father/husband, with deep, dark family secrets revealed and la totale. The film is alternately humorous and melodramatic—it’s one for le grand public, not a film d’auteur, and with more French spoken than Arabic, signifying that the director had an international audience in mind—, and with a screenplay that is—like ‘Mort à vendre’—not entirely original. We’ve seen it many times before. But while not a chef d’œuvre, the pic is entertaining, the ensemble cast is great, the deep class and gender hierarchies in Moroccan society are dealt with head on, and I loved the scenes of Tangier (places and streets I strolled along just three weeks before). So I recommend it. Hollywood press reviews are here and here. French reviews are here. Trailer is here.
For the record, I saw a film at the Tangier cinémathèque last month, ‘Le Temps du terrorisme’ (‘The Time of Terrorism’), by director Aziz Saadallah, which so far has opened only in Morocco. It’s a curious film, set in a residential quartier in the heart of Casablanca, of a divorced middle-aged television screenwriter, played by Saadallah, working under a deadline but en mal d’inspiration and who becomes the target of ire of his neighboring Islamist greengrocer, who reproaches him for moral turpitude and a generally decadent lifestyle (consuming alcoholic beverages, frequenting women with whom he is not related). The film goes back-and-forth between the screenwriter’s cultural, social class, and ideological clash with his intolerant, increasingly fanaticized neighbor and the screenplay he needs to finish, which is progressively inspired by this real life clash. The worthy message of the film is the mounting danger of Islamist extremism in Morocco. The one English discussion of the film I’ve come across is here. Trailer is here. As the film won’t be making it to Paris—let alone outre-Atlantique—anytime soon, at least one can read about it here on AWAV.