The Marrakech International Film Festival 2014 began on Friday 5 December. As well as the main competition category, the festival also features tribute categories. This year’s personal homages are to actors Jeremy Irons (UK), Viggo Mortensen (US) and Adel Iman (Egypt) plus two of Morocco’s most prolific producers, Khadija Alami and Zakaria Alaoui.
Morocco is a sought-after location for films. The Atlas Film Studios in Ouarzarzate are one of the world’s largest. The combined filmography of these two producers includes almost every movie ever made in Morocco. Between them, they have worked on dozens of TV and feature film productions including movie series such as James Bond, Mission Impossible and Jason Bourne. The new James Bond film, Spectre, will be filmed here in 2015.
Most of the films shot in Morocco fall into a few main categories. Although often a location in its own right for foreign productions (Hideous Kinky, Babel) and Moroccan directors (Fevers, Horses of God), in some cases, Morocco doubles for a location where filming would be much more difficult (or more expensive) to arrange, such as war-torn Beirut (Spy Game), Tibet (Kundun), Algeria (Of Gods and Men) or Yemen (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen). In historical epics such as Gladiator or Alexander, Morocco’s deserts and kasbahs double for the Roman Empire or Ancient Greece. In post-9/11 spy and terrorism dramas, Morocco often doubles for some other dusty Arab or Islamic state such as Palestine (the BBC’s The Honourable Woman), Iraq (Green Zone) or some other unnamed country (Rendition).
Complicit (2013) falls into this latter category, where Rabat is the substitute for Cairo. Shown in tribute to producer Khadija Alami, I was attracted to the film by its theme and lead actor, David Oyelowo, a rising star of British stage and screen currently doing well in the US (and also to be seen in Marrakech this year in the closing film, J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year). Oyelowo plays Edward, an MI5 intelligence agent ground down by the slog of the job. He is keen for promotion, feels he is being overlooked and is frustrated that although his gut tells him his target, a fundamentalist Muslim preacher in East London is plotting a terrorist attack, the evidence is out of reach and the red tape is against a lawful arrest.
Writer Guy Hibbert (who has worked on many UK TV terrorism, spy and crime dramas) captures the slowly grinding wheels of the UK civil service so well. The characters are spot-on without being stereotypes. Edward’s Director has the clipped, considered language of a true mandarin; his Oxbridge counterpart from the British Embassy in Cairo has all the chumminess of a mate and is a stickler for the ‘regulations’ while displaying an incompetence that belies his education. And all the while, the enemy is smarter, wilier and more cunning….. The plot has a twist at the end: just who is complicit with whom? And do the means (torture) justify the ends?
Check out the festival programme for more tributes to Khadija Alami and Zakaria Alaoui, including Captain Phillips, Hideous Kinky and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.