Marrakech International Film Festival: meeting Morocco through film

maroc-o-phile at the Marrakech Film Festival

maroc-o-phile at the Marrakech Film Festival

As I have now been living in Morocco full-time for three months, I was keen to attend the 12th Marrakech International Film Festival (30 Nov-8 Dec), in particular to see a selection of Moroccan movies, both in the competition and in the other categories. I wasn’t alone: all the Moroccan films were sell-outs, not only in the prestigious first screenings at the Palais des Congres, but also for the re-runs in the Cinema Colisée.

Readers of my wordpress blogs (globally inspired TravelBug and my Edinburgh reviews blog) will know that I am a keen cinema-goer and regularly attend the Berlinale, Berlin’s International Film Festival. I love how film can give an insight into a culture, a life, a place or a point in time.

In all, I managed to see seven films over four days, four of which were Moroccan and three of which (including two Moroccan films) were in the competition. I have already reviewed Nabil Ayouch’s Horses of God here. Nabil Ayouch is currently the golden boy of the Moroccan movie scene. Along with Nour Eddine Lahkmari, whose Zéro was also in the competition, he is seen as part of a ‘new wave’ in Moroccan cinema. The audiences certainly agreed – both their films were enthusiastically received, I assume for their direct approach to difficult issues such as urban poverty, corruption and fundamentalism.

cast and crew of Horses of God

cast and crew of Horses of God

Zéro is the nickname of a small-time cop, relegated to recording complaints on an ancient typewriter for threatening the cushy positions of his superiors. It is the third of Noureddine Lahkmari’s films about the grubby stains of Casablanca. This city is hardly whiter than white. Zéro hangs about with under-age Lolita, Mimi (played by the gorgeous Zineb Samara, also seen in Al Bayra, below), splitting with her the bahkshish he gets for catching her with sleazebags pre-flagrante. Not looking unlike a young Al Pacino in Serpico and with a nod in the other direction to Taxi Driver, Younes Bouab plays the young cop, as he manages his cantankerous wheelchair-bound dad, the daily grind of a corrupt police station and a serious alcohol problem. He’s no angel himself, but when he falls for the caring and intelligent (and out of his league) Dr Kenza and decides to take on the Big Fish, the audience can only hope that his good intentions will win through. A well-woven story, well-directed and acted – highly recommended!

Malak is set in Tangier: Morocco’s gateway to the world and processing point of all its goods – and bads. It tells the story of a girl who finds herself up against the social stigma of teenage pregnancy. I reviewed it here.

My viewing at the Film Festival wasn’t all about gritty social issues. I also saw two comedies. Al Bayra, la vielle jeune fille (dir: Mohammed Abderrahman Tazi ) is a light-hearted family drama about the attempts of an elderly man from the rural sticks to marry off his worldly-wise flight attendant niece, who is perfectly happy with her carefree single life. Despite the humourous approach, the film gives a real insight into the inter-generational tensions in modern Morocco, albeit against a pretty affluent backdrop. (It’s certainly not typical for a family to live with two wives in an elaborately mosaic-ed Fes riad and holiday in a Californian-style villa in Tangier).  As you might expect, the ‘young spinster’ (or’ old virgin’), played by Farida Bouazzaoui, gets her way in the end. It’s not a deep film, but it’s thoroughly entertaining and a decent script means that the string of unsuitable suitors wheeled out by Uncle Mohktar are not the only ones to provide the laughs.

je suis festivalier!

je suis festivalier!

I am a big fan of the Noury Brothers’ 2006 film, Heaven’s Doors, about young people trying to find a way out of petty criminality and the drudge of poverty in Casablanca. So much so, that I went to see their second feature film in 2009, an interpretation of Dostoyevsky’s The Man who Sold the World, which I didn’t enjoy at all. So, I was intrigued to see their third film, Elle est Diabetique 3, especially after an interview I read indicated the directors had been making comedy before releasing their first two features.  Elle est diabetique 3 was like watching the bedroom farce at the theatre at the end of the pier on holiday. It was set in Mazagan Golf Resort and featured stereotypically manipulative female characters, men ruled by their pants and antics along the lines of ‘lover leaves via the balcony as wife walks in through the door’…. The direction was funky (lots of manga-style split screens, lurid 70s porn-style colours with sunglasses and moustaches to match and crazy angles) but this didn’t make up for the weak plot. The sell-out audience seemed to enjoy recognising the characters (perhaps from parts 1 and 2 in the series) but even they didn’t laugh as much as I had expected. I wanted to like a new Noury brothers effort, but I’m afraid this all-inclusive trip to sunny Mazagan left me cold.

I really enjoyed a few days in the big city. Essaouira’s two cinemas have closed down and it was great to watch films on the big screen. Pirate DVDs are so readily available and cheap in Morocco that it is hardly surprising that so few cinemas survive. It was encouraging, therefore, to see so many locals supporting Moroccan talent (even if many of the Directors are actually based abroad). I didn’t make it to see, but the Bollywood films shown for free on Place Jmaa el Fna were also immensely popular.

Background on the Moroccan movie scene here.

Full listing of the films shown at the 12th FIFM here.

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