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Moroccan Animation (part 2): the Feature Films

 

FICAM’s focus on African films and its Pan-African attitude towards animation, which I mentioned in the previous blog entry, is evident in the programming of Cameroonian feature-length animation, Minga and the Broken Spoon, by Claye Edou, in the competition. Claye told me that the directors of the festival approached him when the film was still in post-production, and Claye was astounded to find it had been selected. He intended the film for Cameroonian audiences, and never expected it to travel beyond his country’s borders. And yet it did…

Minga

The film is based on a local folk tale and is the very first animated film from Cameroon. It had its premier in November in Cameroon, and Claye told me he was not expecting the film to travel at all. He saw his completion of it, and the success it has had inside Cameroon, as his major achievement. But the film is doing so well in Morocco since this first screening, that Claye has ended up travelling the breadth and length of the country to show it at ten locations in Morocco, to packed screening rooms of very excited and appreciative children. Claye is ecstatic that the film, based on a local story, is so accessible to other cultures as well and now hopes it will travel further still.

The story centres around Minga, a young, beautiful orphan who lives with her cruel stepmother Mami Kaba and her selfish step-sister. Mami Kaba is a malevolent woman in the typical evil stepmother mould (like in Cinderella) who does not hesitate to give all the hard work in the household to Minga. However, Minga does not mind hard work, and she goes about her daily routines dancing and singing. One day, she breaks Mami Kaba’s precious spoon as she washes the dishes in the river. This sparks a fury during which Mami Kaba expels Minga from the family home in order to find the only existing duplicate of this spoon, which belonged to Minga’s mother. It is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. How will Minga deal on her own in the jungle, and how will she overcome the dangers and difficulties presented to her on her way?

The film is a beautifully designed computer animation, on which Claye Edou worked for 3.5 years, with a team of 50 people (including singers, artists and technicians), all the while continuing his full-time job as an accountant. Wizards, magical beasts and enchanting dreams of the past and the future help Minga on her way to overcome adversity and to find the love of her life. The film carries elements of the already-mentioned Cinderella and other princess stories so popular in international fairy tales and is, perhaps precisely because of these universal elements, widely enjoyed.

In a bilingual country like Cameroon, where one half of the film industry has Nollywood-scale ambitions and the other half is dependent on French money, Claye Edou’s first feature length animated film is something of a miracle. This feature length animation is an immense achievement, because – as Florent Coulon shows – the last cinemas in the country were closed in 2009 and filmmaking has since been very minimal. Edou is a young, enterprising and idealistic filmmaker who created Cledley Productions in 2014, specifically to create Minga. It is the result of his passion for art and for telling stories. He is a national award-winning portrait painter, inspired by design and the desire to present oral stories from his own culture. An animation studio based in Douala, Cameroon, Cledley Productions now aims to present to a wider international audience the traditional local oral heritage, and the musical culture of the various regions in Cameroon beyond the Cameroonian borders. With Minga and The Broken SpoonCledley Productions also wants to reposition Cameroonian cinema at the centre of African animation, by becoming a true pioneer of animated film in the sub-region.

For a trailer of the film, see here.

1917 – The Real October

Another feature film we loved in particular was 1917 – La vérité sur octobre// 1917 – The Real October,an animated documentary with live-action interjections,in which Katrin Rothe looks at the lives and times of five artistic-intellectual individuals in the months running up to the October Revolution in 1917’s Russia. She paints a larger picture of the global events, but focuses on the thoughts, diaries, notes and poems by five influential historical figures who have been studied to death by academics and historians. It’s good to see Rothe revive and reanimate them. Unlike the greater historical studies, this film focuses on individual thoughts, details and everyday events. As such, Rothe reveals innermost thoughts, and shows how these characters change their alliances or hold onto their ideals and belief systems. The five main characters are worth mentioning.

Firstly, I loved the characterisation of Zinaida Gippius. A very strong, influential and assured woman, she was the lyricist of symbolism and a famous literary critic who acted as the grande dame of St. Peterburg’s literature and philosophy salon. Her image and recreation in bubble-wrap and cardboard is particularly striking and her face is beautifully captured through layers of paper. In the face of the events surrounding and threatening to drown her, she loses faith in the power of poetry and turns to diaries, becoming in her own words a ‘chronicler’ of events. There is a startling contrast between the throwaway materials that make her image and the value she places on pen and paper to record what she is living through. Secondly, Maxim Gorky was – and is to this day – an internationally known and revered author. He was a dedicated critic of the Tsarist regime. One of the most interesting things in the film is how there was a sliver of doubt and a change of heart in Gorky’s politics during these turbulent times. This was not the case for Vladimir Mayakovsky, the young and revolutionary poet. In the film he’s portrayed as a bit of a Cockney geezer and a chancer, an edgy performance poet of his times. His arrival on screen is often heralded by free-style beat-boxing. He’s particularly proud of the part his own sloganeering poetry plays in the revolution, when the Bolsheviks chant two of his lines:

Mayakovsky

“munch your pineapple, gobble your grouse, your last day’s coming you bourgeois louse!”

The fourth of the main characters is Alexandre Benois, one of the most important art critics of his time, shown to be emotionally very affected by the revolution and the destruction of artistic heritage. When I spoke to Rothe about the film, I pointed out how affected I was by the tears that rolled down Benois’ face, and how real they looked. She joked that water is very visible on paper faces, and that his glasses emphasise his eyes. Lastly, for me the most aesthetically strong character was Kazimir Malevich, a painter, mystic and art theorist who was a pioneer of geometric abstract art. He sympathised with anarchist-individualistic principles. His depiction in cubist clothes and his square head was very effective, specifically in the bright colours (as opposed to the serene white of Zinaida and the dull beiges and browns of Benois and Mayakovsky). These five individuals and their thoughts, reflections and writings paint a much clearer and recognisable situation.

Malevich

It is also remarkable how Rothe, whose dedication to documentary and animation has made her an artist of some renown, dedicated three of her days at FICAM to workshops with young Moroccan documentary students. This collaboration was established by Hamid Aïdouni, friend of the TMC project and leader of the Tétouan student film festival we wrote about in a previous blog (here). His dedication to the development of confident film students reveals a deep-seated belief in the future of Moroccan filmmaking, and even animation, a form of filmmaking often forgotten about in the country. Rothe’s film has been touring the globe on the film festival circuit, attending both those dedicated to documentary and to animation. In the introduction to the screening of the film, the director of the festival talked about how far FICAM and the freedom of speech elements in Moroccan politics have come: he pointed out that just a few years ago, this sort of political/critical film would not have been allowed to screen in Morocco.

For the trailer, see here.

Nelly & Simon

The third feature film we saw was Nelly & Simon: Mission Yetiby Nancy Florence Savard and Pierre Greco. A hilarious caper for children, this film elicited lots of applause and loud laughter, and the filmmaker acknowledged this gratefully, saying that the Moroccan audience is one of her favourites, precisely for these reasons. The story follows impulsive and stubborn Nelly Maloye, a private detective, who joins the fastidious and pragmatic young scientist Simon Picard in Quebec in 1956, on his research trip to the Himalayas, to prove the existence of the Yeti. He believes that he can prove his hypothesis that the Yeti is the missing link in human evolution. Frustrated and nearing the end of his research grant, he is given a three-month reprieve by a wealthy yet caddish investor. Using an explorer’s journal that supposedly contains the location of the mythical creature’s den, Simon and Nelly must learn to combine their methodological and improvisational approaches if they are going to be able to navigate the challenging terrain. With Tensing (perhaps named after the Sherpa from Hillary’s 1953 Everest expedition?), their young guide, and Jasmin, a chatty myna bird, by their side, they face countless adventures and dangers in a beautiful and dangerous terrain. The film took 8 years to complete, is a gem of 3D and showcases the Canadian National Film Board’s investment in animation.

The trailer is available here.

Un Homme est mort

Finally, I want to mention another of our favourite feature-length films, which eventually also won the competition: Un Homme est Mortor A Man is Dead. Adapted for the screen by Olivier Cossu from an graphic novel of the same title by Kris and Etienne Davodeau and looking like Tintin for grown-ups, Un Homme Est Mort takes its title from a poem by surrealist poet Paul Eluard.

Gabriel Péri

Un homme est mort qui n’avait pour défense
Que ses bras ouverts à la vie
Un homme est mort qui n’avait d’autre route
Que celle où l’on hait les fusils
Un homme est mort qui continue la lutte
Contre la mort contre l’oubli

Car tout ce qu’il voulait
Nous le voulions aussi
Nous le voulons aujourd’hui
Que le bonheur soit la lumière
Au fond des yeux au fond du cœur
Et la justice sur la terre

Il y a des mots qui font vivre
Et ce sont des mots innocents
Le mot chaleur le mot confiance
Amour justice et le mot liberté
Le mot enfant et le mot gentillesse
Et certains noms de fleurs et certains noms de fruits
Le mot courage et le mot découvrir
Et le mot frère et le mot camarade
Et certains noms de pays de villages
Et certains noms de femmes et d’amies
Ajoutons-y Péri
Péri est mort pour ce qui nous fait vivre
Tutoyons-le sa poitrine est trouée
Mais grâce à lui nous nous connaissons mieux
Tutoyons-nous son espoir est vivant.

Paul Éluard

René Vautier in Brest

The use of the poem is no mere literary affectation designed to inject the film with a sense of gravitas: this comes naturally when Eluard is given the highest accolade a poet can hope for, to see his poem taken and rendered into the language of the people. Taking place during the workers’ strikes in Brest, France in 1950, this film follows two childhood friends (Petit Zef and Désiré) after their other close friend Edouard has been shot dead in the head by police during a demonstration. A sympathetic filmmaker, René Vautier, is brought in by the Union head to document the grinding poverty of the workers on strike while they push for better pay as they rebuild the war-torn town of Brest. Vautier, it is mentioned in the film, has just returned from making Afrique 50(1956), a strongly anti-colonialist documentary, which made him fall deeply out of favour with the French government. In Brest, Petit Zef and Désiré become his initially reluctant filming assistants and guides. The idea of a film within a film is not new, but the very act of making this documentary film restores a sense of worth and determination to the town and the film reaches its peak towards the end when Petit Zef (who is illiterate) is given the task of reciting Paul Eluard’s poem to accompany a screening of the film to the town. He begins to recite what he knows by heart and then begins to speak in his own words from the heart.

The trailer can be viewed here.

What FICAM shows then, is the inspired, varied internationalist approach to its programme and the direct relevance and inspiration that comes from this selection to its often very young Moroccan audiences. The fact that we saw challenging political films as well as folklore-based fairy tales and humorous detective capers, speaks volumes of the international quality of this festival. Likewise, the attention paid to its filmmakers, the networking opportunities for young filmmakers and students with the more experienced artists, and even the pan-African vibe in some of the best films here, really excited me as an audience member and as a festival researcher. FICAM has great international ambitions and the attentive directors of the festival really work with a vision for the future of the form in mind – both internationally as with regard for students of filmmaking in Morocco itself. Long may it continue…

Next week, in the last blog entry on Meknes, we will reflect on the only Moroccan film in the short film competition: Ayamby Sofia El Khayari.

Stefanie Van de Peer

Ode to political aïta: The Howl of the Soul (Abdelilah Eljaouhari, 2018)

 

One of the most intriguing films of this year’s National Film Festival (Tangier, 9-18 March) was definitely Le Cri de l’âme (its English title: The Howl of the Soul) by Abdelilah Eljaouhari, a fiction film based on an original story turned into script by Othman Achekra. Its theme is not new: the film is a return to the Years of Lead under the reign of Hassan II, a theme picked up by many Moroccan filmmakers since the early 2000s (from Lahcen Zinoun’s powerful short, Faux pas, 2003, to feature films such as Hassan Benjelloun’s La Chambre noire, 2004, or Jilali Ferhati’s Mémoire en détention, 2005; as well as Leïla Kilani’s moving documentary Nos lieux interdits, 2011, for instance). However, the treatment of the topic is fresh and solidly anchored in Morocco’s culture: that of the aïta.

The latter is a popular song tradition with a rich history in the Doukkala and Chaouia regions in Morocco’s Atlantic mid-west (amply and beautifully documented by Izza Génini, who was at one of our previous events). The film, set in 1973, at the height of the repression against student movements, uses the aïta both as a structural device, and as the signifier of a long history of brazen resistance: some of the aïta performers have sung truth to power to the peril of their lives. Encoding this particular element of cultural patrimony on several levels in the filmic narrative works well and roots a universal message of liberation deeply in the local terrain.

The film follows the structure of the aïta spelled out on the screen:

  • Prologue: the people of el Aloua
  • Act I: The fair daughter of the Fassi
  • Act II: Menanna Zerouala
  • Act II: Where do you come from? Where do I come from?
  • Epilogue: Sooner or later, truth will prevail.

Each section of the film is heralded by five performers of the aïta (3 men and 2 women, the Nachate Essayada band). Well-known aïta songs form most of the soundtrack, and one of the two protagonists, Abdelfattah Fakehani, is an activist teacher who is doing research on the aïta throughout the film. Hence the Years of Lead are framed, and frame, the aïta.

The story that echoes so powerfully in the 1973 narrative is that of Mennana Kharboucha, an extremely gifted aïta composer and singer who sang songs of resistance. Mennana acquired legendary status and all sorts of stories circulated about her, yet she was also a historical figure who came to fame at the turn of the century. At the time, a violent and powerful money-hungry Caïd, Aïssa Ben Omar Al Abdi, after leading ruthless wars of conquest in neighboring territories, levied such high taxes that his people were starving. In 1895, the Ouled Zaid revolted against him and almost won: they were under the spell of Mennana Kharboucha’s songs, the lyrics of which denounced Caïd Ben Omar’s despotism and unfair treatment of his people. One of the legends about the performer is that the Caïd fell in love with her and when she sang about her deep contempt for his abuses of power to his face, condemned her to be buried alive. Clearly, it is perilous for a woman to sing truth to a Caïd’s power frontally…

Kharboucha

No wonder, then, that the legend of Kharboucha, the female figure who gives voice to the oppressed, becomes reenacted as a parable to talk about the Years of Lead. Hence the song on Kharboucha in the 1990s, composed by Mohamed Al Batouli and Saïd Limame, performed by Hayat Idrissi, and promptly censored by Hassan II’s regime; Jnane El Kerma, a TV series by Farida Bourquia in 2002; Kharboucha, a play by Salem Gouindi that same year; and Kharboucha, a film by Hamid Zoughi in 2008.

Eljouhary’s film has a satisfying intricacy, as the mise en abyme of Mennana Kharboucha echoes through a multi-layered narrative: a detective story (a woman’s corpse is found in the phosphate quarry of Khouribga at the beginning of the film), the historically accurate narrative of the students’ movement UNEM banned in 1973 (with the arrest of Saïda Menebhi in 1976 in Rabat, who later went on hunger strike and died), a nuanced portrayal of a class system in 1973 (the wealth-inducing city of Khouribga, “world capital of phosphates” inhabited by a poor population) that hints at today’s Moroccan realities (a theme common to many if not all films at this 19th edition of the Festival National du Film). These levels of narrative rest on the intersecting narratives of four individuals: Driss, the depressed former philosophy student turned cop; Abdelfattah, the teacher and activist who heads a cine-club and researches the aïta; Cheikha Zohra whom he interviews for his research and her husband, the wise Cheikh Rouhani who counts the stars at night; Abdelwaneth, the club guard and his dog Sitel. There is a love story, and a history of disappearance (and – spoiler alert! – reappearance).

Abdelilah Eljaouhari

It is also well edited, well directed, with a carefully selected cast of actors who are completely believable; it is well shot (by Ali Benjelloun) and it is a Moroccan story that speaks to a Moroccan audience via all these references off screen while enjoyable and understandable by a larger audience outside Morocco (to which I belong).

My question is now: where and when will it be seen? The release in Moroccan theaters is not going to happen for a while and, as with so many Moroccan films, an international release is far from certain. I wish all the best to Cri de l’âme.

Florence Martin

Morocco Animated: the International Festival of Animated Film in Meknès

 

After an exciting week in the mythic city of Tangier for the Moroccan National film festival, I went to Meknès for another festival, one with international ambitions: FICAM, or the International Festival of Animation in Meknès. The festival runs over 5 days and is held at the Institut Français in the new town, while we were staying in a riad in the old town. The walk to the festival is steeply uphill, and so we usually arrived at the film screenings very ready for a refreshing mint tea and a film.

FICAM was launched in 2000 and focuses on animations from the international circuit. Mohammed Beyoud, FICAM’s creative director, inaugurated the festival with an eye on the promotion of the art of animation, through both animated film screenings and educational workshops. Beyoud invites animators and filmmakers from both commercial and independent backgrounds to showcase their work and provide, as speakers, valuable knowledge on a range of animation practices. It is a very open-minded festival, with a focus on students’ experiences and development. This is perhaps most obvious in the workshops and conferences that take place every day in the médiathèque: the festival’s organisers and the speakers gear their introductions and talks to the students, and constitute an inherently encouraging, if somewhat intense, part of the fest.

FICAM’s focus on women in animation

This year, FICAM’s focus was on women in animation, its trailer showcasing female figures from all over the world, including Arab, African, Japanese and European women in animation. Indeed, the banners stated assertively: “L’Afrique s’exprime” and “L’Occident est au rendez-vous”. The main guest of the festival was Brenda Chapman, best known for her directorial work on Brave (2012), The Prince of Egypt (1998) and The Lion King (1994). Chapman gave the festival’s lecture on its first day, focusing on her own and other women’s contributions to American animation. Other guests were Carlos Saldanha and Sunao Katabuchi and one particularly interesting talk was about the depiction of the Arab in American animation, delivered by Rachid Naim from the University of Safi.

Aïcha’s dancing helpers

The festival is funded by the Aïcha Foundation and the French Institute, and it receives institutional support from CCM, TV5Monde and 2M. CCM does not pay enough attention to animation, and that can only change for the better if FICAM and its visitors keep their precious work going. As Meknès is the heart of the agricultural region in Morocco, and Aïcha, as the largest concern in the canning industry, is an appropriate local funder. It was founded in the 1920s, and connects the local agricultural industry to the wellbeing of its future consumers. The mascot, a young girl, has transformed over the years into an animated advertising tool with characteristics of Snow White, as she looks and acts completely innocent, has seven companions who work hard and have distinct, individual personality traits. They all adore and protect Aïcha. (To see an example of how Aicha is animated for TV advertising, see here). The brand has grown to such an extent that as soon as Aïcha appears on screen at FICAM the young audiences go mad with enthusiasm and start clapping and singing along loudly to the tunes. The seven companions were outside in the courtyard of the French Institute, waiting for us to come out of the films and entertain all of us, but mostly the youngest kids who laughed, danced and played with them in between screenings. Animated advertising is therefore recognised as having an enormous influence on the industry of animated film at the festival, while the brand also supports and recognises the importance of the festival and its international reach.

This year, FICAM had 6 feature films in competition: Mutafukaz by Guillaume Renard and Shojiro Nishimi (France/Japan, 2017); Minga and the Borken Spoon by Claye Edou (Cameroon, 2017); In this Corner of the World by Sunao Katabuchi (Japan, 2017); Nelly and Simon: Mission Yéti by Nancy Florence Savard and Pierre Graco (Canada, 2017); A Silent Voice by Naoko Yamada (Japan, 2017); and Un Homme est mort by Olivier Cossu (France, 2018). These six films were all shown in the presence of their directors, with a short intro and an extensive Q&A after the screenings. All of the directors were either very pleasantly surprised by the attention they received in screening rooms filled with children and young people, or they commented on how much they loved FICAM and how excited they were to be there again, among the children, to speak to them and engage with the students. FICAM clearly focuses on the audience and on the education of the next generation of animation lovers and animation artists.

Out of competition the festival screened 1917 – The Real October by Katrin Rothe (Germany/Switzerland, 2017); Zombillenium by Arthur de Pins and Alexis Ducord (France, 2017); Iqbal, l’enfant qui n’avait pas peur by Michel Fuzellier and Babak Payami (France/Italy, 2016); Coco by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina (USA, 2017); The Jungle Bunch by David Alaux (France, 2017); Ferdinand by Carlos Saldanha (2017) and Drôles de petites bêtes by Arnaud Bouron and Antoon Krings (2017).

FICAM at the French Institute in Meknès

There was a special focus on Japanese anime, with classics such as Momorato by Mitsuyo Seo (1945); Arrietty by Sunao Katabuchi (2001); as well as newer materials such as Lou over the Wall (2017); The Napping Princess by Kenji Kamiyama (2017) and Mazinger Z by Junji Shimizu (2017).

The short film competition likewise was incredibly rich, with films from all over the world, and ran over four days, screening five to six films every evening at 9pm. This wide variety was matched by the array of professionals, students and fans at some of the many talks, discussions, roundtables and ‘thé à la menthe’ moments in the café of the Institut Français. In the coming blog entries, I will reflect a little bit more on each of these aspects of FICAM, and on the winners of the competitions.

Stefanie Van de Peer

Ouarzazate Movie at IDFA 2017: A Revelation of Continued Cinematic Imperialism in the Moroccan Desert

 

Moroccan films and documentaries are currently really well-represented at film festivals around the world. The TMC team of course screened Aïta and Trances at Africa in Motion (see Will Higbee’s blog); the Kolkata Film Festival in India screened seven contemporary Moroccan films; Volubilis by Faouzi Bensaïdi was screened at Venice and in Carthage and will doubtless visit many festivals worldwide this year; and Razzia by Nabil Ayouch has been selected as Morocco’s entry in the pre-selections for Best Foreign Film at the 2018 Oscars. And these are of course just a few examples: we all know there are some very exciting films to be screened at some of the largest festivals in the world next year.

IDFA 2017

My most recent festival experience was of six MENA films at IDFA, the world’s most famous international film festival dedicated to documentaries, in Amsterdam. It is one of the most enjoyable, laid-back and convivial festivals I know and I like to visit it every year, mostly because it has always been really good at representing the transnational nature of the documentary industry. From its inception, this festival has had a focus not only on Dutch or European and American docs but also on African, Arab and Latin American, Asian and Australasian films. It really is one of those festivals that make genuine attempts to be all-inclusive and diverse. It avoids red carpet events, focuses on networking events and meetings, and opens up doors both to the industry and to a very loyal and enthusiastic local audience, through affordable ticketing and accreditation. The only downside to the festival, from my perspective, is that it is located in one of the most expensive cities in Europe.

One of my highlights this year was the screening of two modest Moroccan films: Ouarzazate Movie and House in the Fields, on Thursday 23 November. I especially liked Ouarzazate Movie by Ali Essafi, a film from 2001, primarily perhaps because Ouarzazate has been in the news recently, with Noureddine Sail pointing out that Ourzazate as a film location encounters serious issues due to its isolation. In an interview published in English on MENAFM he said: “The problems that hinder film production in Ouarzazate aren’t related to cinema as much as they’re related to the region itself. The region is isolated. There aren’t enough roads to get here. There aren’t enough airline flights. This isolation creates problems. Some international producers come here only because they’re compelled to due to the location’s history with Lawrence of Arabia and other famous films like The Mummy and Gladiator. They say there’s no place where they can film better than this one. We can say that the region of Ouarzazate is like an open studio. But once the issues of transportation put pressure on producers, many of them look elsewhere.” Even as the CCM is now focusing its attention on creating extra incentives through tax rebates and an increasingly professional crew locally, the issue of isolation and a continued lack of communication hamper the studios’ potential.

Checking out the Extras

In the film, we see how foreign film production companies come to this isolated place in the desert, working with local companies such as Dune Films, for setting and location, with or without production incentives. The film focuses on the methods used by these companies to communicate with the local population who are looking for jobs and see themselves as an inherent part of the local film history.

The recruitment process is brutal. The local people are all too willing to be part of a Hollywood production, and they have memories of working on Lawrence of Arabia, or with Paolo Pasolini. One older man in particular reminisces on being Pasolini’s personal assistant and the interviewers become really interested in Pasolini’s attitude towards the man.

Watching Films together

He smiles and gives nothing away! The filmmaker also shows the men and women – who are or have been extras in the past – footage of the films they have been in. It becomes clear that they have never seen these films, but it is also exciting to see how they recognise themselves, neighbours, parents, and friends, as people with no specific role but on-screen nonetheless.

Ali Essafi films these hopefuls coming together and competing with one another on a grandstand, putting themselves on display to American, French, Italian and Canadian film producers who have determined beforehand exactly which skin colour, sex and age they need. They survey the crowd as if they were visiting a cattle market. The lucky few to be selected then go on to work crazy hours for a pittance. Women and children are set entirely apart from the men and are treated with more contempt, dismissal and a total lack of empathy by the recruiters than the men, who seem to have formed a hierarchy, with some more confident about their chances precisely because they have been recruited so many times in the past, as they fit a stereotypical image of the generic desert dweller: old, tall and lean, face marked with deep wrinkles and the characteristic beard.

Wardrobe tests

Essafi reveals how communication between production companies internally and between production companies and extras is entirely negligible and one-directional, with no regard whatsoever for the rights and circumstances of their employees, and health hazards are ignored—it’s clearly only about the money, for the foreign companies, not for the locals. Nevertheless, some of the men who have been able to return to several roles on these visiting films have been able to buy or build their houses from their very low wages: each time a pay check comes in they can finish another wall, ceiling or door.

Ouarzazate Movie shows all too clearly that while the films may look stunning on our silver screens, and that foreign productions do indeed come to the studios in Ouarzazate, Saïl has a good point about the actual situation for the local talent and life behind the scenes being entirely neglected and underdeveloped. Once you understand this film, you will look at the famous blockbusters with very different eyes. Western imperialism still reigns unashamedly supreme in the Ouarzazate desert.

Ali Essafi

Ali Essafi was born in Morocco in 1963. He studied psychology in France before entering the world of filmmaking. His films include: General, Here We Are (1997); The Silence of the Beet Fields (1998); Ouarzazate Movie (2001); and Shikhat’s Blues (2004). He lives and works in Morocco and Brazil.

 

Stefanie Van de Peer

Noureddine Lakhmari’s Burnout: the anti moucharabieh cinema!

 

On set – Burnout

Lakhmari’s Burnout has just been released in Morocco and it is quite an event! It came out on October 11 in the major cities (where there are still movie theaters…).

When I saw Noureddine Lakhmari in Tangier briefly the week before, he had told me how Moroccan cinema was not what Moroccan tourism was about: “it is not about the food, the tiles, the camels – have you seen many camels around here?… it is about a reality people can relate to, a daily life they know, an urban landscape they can identify, not a cleaned up, orientalist version of themselves.”

Poster Burnout (2017, Lakhmari)

Then I saw Burnout, the last part of his trilogy after Casanegra (2009) and Zero (2012). Again, the Casablancais are the focus of this film, but, rather than showing them in a ghettoized fashion, along separate destinies, Lakhmari decides to have them cross one another’s paths. Although some critics in Morocco have marveled at how lushly the white city is portrayed, I tend to disagree: Casablanca is shot mostly in interiors, and/or mostly at night, as the camera follows the various characters whose itineraries intersect. The film is not about Casablanca’s wide cityscape but rather focuses on the pointed intersections Casablanca may provide for people from the top 1% (Ines, the manager of an art gallery and her husband Jad; a rich artist; a corrupt politician on the Islamist side of the spectrum) to bump into the shrinking middle-class (a student in medical school struggling to make ends meet) and the poor class of the street shoe shiners (a motley crew of kids hired by a man in love with a one-legged woman who can never find work).

If it is about Casablanca, then it is about how the economical capital of Morocco allows its infinitely socially layered population to circulate and at times bump into one another. As a result, unpredictable encounters can happen in the city, some of them violent (the student and the politician, a kid and his so-called “uncle”), some of them magical. Among the latter, Ayoub, the shoeshine boy (played by Ilyas el Jihani, L’Orchestre des aveugles, Mohamed Mouftakir, 2015) meets Jad, the rich man whose father frustrated his dream of becoming a car racer.

These uneasy temporary joining of characters are filmed straight on, resulting in drama or humor (there is a bitter-sweet hilarious scene in a restaurant where the waiter describes the menu in perfect Nouvelle Cuisine French to a befuddled, darija-speaking audience of first-timers used to entirely different food and places). The image is sleek, very clear, the close ups on Jad’s facial scar, on the shoeshine boys‘ dirty skin and clothes, on a beggar’s nails black with grime are detailed, almost hyper-realistic. Lakhmari is clearly intent on showing us the gaping differences between people sharing the same spot with ruthless clarity and from as close up as possible: this is not a view from afar. As a result, we, as viewers, do not experience a panoramic view of the city from a protected moucharabieh: we can almost smell the urine and the sweat in the slums, and we feel the pain of Aida as she screams.

Noureddine Lakhmari

Some of Lakhmari’s themes and images from the previous two films are still present here: women are tough; men are violent, abusive; there is yet another impotent man (this time not old but middle-aged) and the character is slowly becoming crippled. This time, however, he will not die during the filmic narrative…

Obviously, Lakhmari does not want to hide his truth and does not want Moroccans to be tourists in their own landscape. Yet, in the end, you leave the theater with the laughter of Ayoub and Jad in your ears – perhaps a sliver of hope.

 

Florence Martin