Monthly Archives: October 2017

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

Shakespeare in Casablanca by Sonia Terrab (60 minutes, 2016)


The International Women’s Film Festival in Salé offers three types of competition: feature length fiction; fiction shorts; documentaries. The latter is rich in works from all over the world and the Moroccan entry is no exception.

Shakespeare in Casablanca

Shakespeare à Casablanca is profoundly Casablancais: coproduced by Nabil Ayouch (Ali’n Productions) and Moroccan TV (2M), it follows a theater troupe through the streets of Casablanca as the director and actors prepare the staging of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The film is an adaptation on multiple levels: first the play had to be translated from English to the local version of spoken Arabic, Darija (on three different levels, we are told: the darija of yore, Casablanca’s variations, the darija of today’s youth), then it had to be understood, staged and rehearsed for present times in Casablanca. For that purpose, the work was done in partnership with its potential audience. The resulting documentary is a type of “making of” of the play: how does one film the production of the play from start to finish (along, predictably enough, three acts: Beginning of the Summer; Mid-Summer; Night of the Show)? How does one go from Shakespeare’s multi-leveled fantasy to Casablanca’s 21st century reality? The film therefore follows the actors asking people on the street how they would react to the story of star-crossed lovers whose parents forbid them to marry and who decide to flee to the forest. What would you do in that situation, they ask?


The main part of the filmic narrative becomes a fabulous call-and-response between curious passers-by and the probing actors on the streets of Casablanca, thus re-enacting in contemporary times Shakespeare’s play within the play structure in the Dream. In a hilarious scene, one man disagrees with the choice of the forest as an escape route: the lovers should retreat to the sea, to the beach, he repeats this with forceful conviction. Another steps in, addresses the male actor and demonstrates that he needs to project more assurance in order to convince his beloved’s father that his lover is his, and no one else’s. “You need to be more self-confident! You are not good at this! I would marry her! She would follow me everywhere!” Completely taken by his own acting, he ends up in a space that unites Shakespeare’s play and Casa’s reality, as he continues his dialogue with the actor and predicts: “you will marry her, and she will have your son but she will call him Fayçal [his own name], so taken is she with me, with how strong-willed I am!”

Along the way, the troupe asks people what love means. They avoid the bourgeois districts of Casablanca (e.g. the Twin Towers), preferring to interact with the people of poor neighbourhoods. What does love mean? What are the words for it in Darija? The translator mentions houb (love) and z’hou (desire, passion); a taxi driver talks about terms of endearment learned in childhood (e.g. “my little liver”). Between modesty and shame, love is hard to articulate. A young woman states that Moroccans will not and cannot talk about love.

In one of the most moving scenes, actors are asked, early in the process, to talk about a joy of love and a pain of love. Each actor tells his or her story in turn. A young man with sparkling eyes fervently describes the happiness he felt with the beloved young woman to whom he confided everything. Suddenly, his face veiled with sadness, and in an altered voice, he manages to state that the love story had finished. The camera lingers on his face twitching with pain: so moved is he that he can no longer articulate a word. After a silent while, he finally screams.

In the end, the play is staged in an empty cathedral in front of an audience, for free. As the camera films the faces of the people watching the old British bard’s complex play in Darija in today’s Morocco, there is a rare cinematic moment of grace.

Florence Martin