On the final day of the 13th Marrakech International Film Festival, I saw two films with womens’ stories at their centre: Two Women on the Road (Deux Femmes sur la route) and Behind Closed Doors. Although they had this one commonality, they could hardly have been more different. Where one was set in the cut and thrust of Casablanca, the other took place in sleepy towns and villages of the Rif. Where one was pacy and full of suspense, the other limped along like the waddling gait of it’s older protagonist.
I had expected Two Women on the Road to be a kind of Moroccan Thelma and Louise. Once the main character, Amina (Mouna Fettou) has her car stolen, it becomes more a case study in public transport. Amina’s unlikely travelling companion is Lalla Rahma, who attaches herself to the younger women in a rural market. This film misses a real opportunity to get under the skin of these women or to explore why the men in their lives have chosen to live on the fringes of the law (Amina’s husband is in court for trafficking; Lalla Rahma needs to travel to the city morgue to see if her son was one of many young men fished out of the sea in a failed attempt to get to Italy). The relationship between the two women does not develop convincingly and the visual contrast between them (Rhamna clothed in swathes of skirts and scarves; Amina in as little as she can get away with) is hackneyed. The cliche is brought to an unnecessary but predictable conclusion as Amina – finding her dishonest husband was also lying to her – goes out in a mini skirt, gets drunk in a hotel bar and eventually collapses in self-pity crying “I’m a prostitute”. From a female director (Farida Bourquia), I would have expected deeper female characters with whom the viewer could empathise and who broke stereotypes rather than reinforcing them, even in 2007 when the film was made. Overall, a disappointing film.
Behind Closed Doors, by contrast, is set in modern corporate Casablanca. In modern Morocco, it seems, women can expect to seize greater opportunities in the workplace than ever before and should no longer have to put up with being objectified by male colleagues. At least that is what protagonist Samira (Zineb Odeib) expects, but she becomes victim to a manipulative, misogynist senior colleague who has used the influence of a relative to get his position. Mohammed Ahed Bensouda’s second feature film takes classic stereotypes and smashes them. Samira is a feisty woman who stands up for herself and her husband, Mohcine (Ahmed Saguia) – a successful businessman – sticks right by her side when she tries to blow the whistle on the sexual harassment perpetrated by her boss. The audience – of mainly Moroccans, the majority young men – loved these characters, clapping and cheering when the lecherous company director got what he deserved. The film’s ending offered hope for the future, but for me it was the audience which convinced me that the old attitudes in Morocco are changing for the better when it comes to gender equality. Behind Closed Doors goes on general release in Morocco later this month.
The final day of the Marrakech International Film Festival was rounded off for me by the news that Didier Michon and Slimane Dazi, who played father and son in Fevers, had been jointly awarded the best actor prize. See my review to learn why they certainly deserved it.