This year, I have chosen only to see Moroccan films in the Marrakech Film Festival. I have made Morocco my home and so enjoy seeing its culture, relationships, politics and society through the lens of the movie camera. I also enjoy wondering why the Moroccan audience laughs at scenes I do not find at all amusing – there are clearly some cultural nuances that I still have to fathom!
Samira’s Garden begins with images of the art nouveau buildings of Casablanca that I so recently photographed myself. These big city scenes serve to underscore the distance – in kilometers but also in lifestyle – that Samira, the main character, is obliged to travel. Once Samira arrives at her destination, she begins her real journey. She has been married off to an older relative, a tomato farmer on an isolated estate some distance even from the nearest village.
At first, it seemed that several cliches would be fulfilled by this story. The film had an old-fashioned appearance and I began to suspect it had been made more than a decade ago. The new husband, at least a generation Samira’s senior, bragged graphically to his friends about his virility and how he had deflowered his young bride and got her pregnant. The presence of a younger man (also a relative) in the home, suggested at a classic love triangle and I began to anticipate a big bust-up. A ghost-like further male relative, the father of the groom slowly fading with Alzheimer’s, added to the impression that this film would describe some stereotypical Moroccan domestic arrangement of brow-beaten, subservient wife tasked with cooking, cleaning, carer and bedroom duties.
Fortunately, Lahtif Lahlou’s film – although predictable in places – was much more nuanced than I had imagined. Through the use of flashback sequences, the audience learned how Samira came to be in this situation and although the audience can’t be sure, we get an inkling of why she was sent away from the bright lights of the city. The film deals with some issues I had not expected to see on a Moroccan screen, such as female and male sexuality; sexual performance issues of the older generation; and the impact of grief (real and anticipated) on human relations. Overall, this was a more sensitive film – both in the way it treated issues and the issues themselves – than I had expected. At the end of the film, however, we are reminded: rural Moroccan society is still conservative and every member should accept his or her lot – like it or not – even in the first decades of the 20th century.