Very few countries, even in Europe, have a national film festival. It’s a masterstroke on the part of the government to have created and developed the FNF.
– Salvatore Leocata, Director of the Festival independent de Bruxelles (1)
2003 was a breakthrough year for Moroccan film, with two films at Cannes, Faouzi Bensaïdi’s Mille mois and Narjiss Nejjar’s Les Yeux secs. […] It marked [Morocco’s] grand entrance on the international stage. And ten years later, it’s obvious that an enormous amount of work has been done, that filmmaking constitutes one of the country’s assets and that Morocco continues to dominate the rest of the continent. If you ask me, there is no equivalent in Africa to Moroccan cinema, which is both dynamic and incredibly diverse. It’s fascinating to see, ten years on, that the objective has been met.
–Vincent Malausa, Cahiers du cinéma (2)
Moroccan filmmakers showing in the National Film Festival (FNF) can be split into two groups: those who have lived all or most of their lives in their native country and those who, although born in the kingdom, emigrated at an early age and either remain abroad or eventually return to Morocco (and sometimes, those born abroad to Moroccan parents). The FNF welcomes Moroccans in both categories, as a way to boost local production and pride. Admission in the FNF is thus based not on the nationality of a film’s producer, but on its filmmaker’s nationality. Occasionally, this causes confusion for the public and even the jury. At last year’s festival, for instance, one of my students grilled Ismaël Ferroukhi about the inclusion of his latest film, Les hommes libres (2011), in the feature-length competition: it was financed without Moroccan funds and takes place in Paris during WW2. Just what, he wanted to know, was Moroccan about it? Of course, the film chronicles the Maghrebin population living in Paris already from the 1930s, and one of the film’s protagonists, the Algerian-born Director of the Grand Mosque in Paris, Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit, was himself a Moroccan citizen. Here he is on the historical stage (in the middle-ground in white) on June 29, 1945, when General de Gaulle inducted the Sultan of Morocco Mohammed Ben Youssef (the future King Mohammed V, foreground in white) into the Companions of the Liberation.
Born in Kenitra, Ferroukhi immigrated to France with his family as a child, and like many Moroccan filmmakers, has dual nationality. His passport alone makes him eligible in the FNF. Here’s a brief survey of several binational directors who participated in this year’s FNF.
Casablanca is Nour-Eddine Lakhmari’s city of predilection for shooting, but he has lived off and on in Oslo, since the mid-1980s. Mohamed El Aboudi currently resides in Finland, after having studied in Paris and in Australia, where he did an M.A. in film at Bond University. Born in Paris, Nabil Ayouch grew up in Sarcelles, a Paris suburb, and moved fulltime to Morocco in the 1990s. Kamal El Mahouti, the Director of the Panorama des Cinémas du Maghreb in Saint-Denis, was born in Morocco and moved to France as a child. (3) After spending his childhood in Boujad where his father ran the only movie house in town, Hakim Belabbes studied in Chicago and currently teaches at the Art Institute of that city; he seems to maintain a bi-continental existence between the U.S. and Morocco. Not surprisingly, the points of view of directors, such as these, who live or have lived abroad, and their indigenous counterparts are often divergent. But the government’s policy of encouraging filmmakers of the diaspora is wise. This cross-pollination of homegrown and foreign filmmakers uncontestably stimulates Moroccan production.
It’s been a year of major losses for this national cinema, with more than a dozen personalities having passed away. And since Moroccan film is a small community, their deaths will be felt for some time to come. As a foreigner who has been here now three years, I too recognised several of their names, including the actor Mohamed Majd who died, at 73, on the eve of the National Film Festival. Initially, Majd trained in the theatre, and later worked in television. His film career revved up when he hit 60, and he appeared in several films of the Moroccan New Wave, from the sympathetic seaman in Nabil Ayouch’s Ali Zaoua (2000) to the conservative father in Ismaël Ferroukhi’s Le Grand Voyage (2004) to his magisterial presence in Daoud Aoulad-Syad’s Waiting for Pasolini (2007). (4) His international credits include Philippe de Broca’s Les Mille et Une Nuits (1990), Stephen Gagnan’s Syriana (2005), and Rachid Bouchareb’s Indigènes (2006). In recent years, he had specialised in playing father figures. This year’s jury posthumously honored Majd with an award for best male actor in Nour-Eddine Lakhmari’s Zéro, where he assumes another paternal role.
Among these losses number, too, my colleague, the film critic and teacher, Mohamed Dahane, who died shortly after the festival. The 1970s was a golden age for film viewing in Morocco, when Dahane, Nour-Eddine Saïl, the Director of the Centre Cinématographique Marocain, and so many other Moroccans became bitten by the cinephilia bug. Watching movies for them was not just a pastime, it was a veritable education! In the 1980s, Dahane hosted a weekly television show, in the tradition of the ciné-club of Claude-Jean Philippe (another Moroccan!) in France, introducing the public every week to various film classics. (5) It was Mohamed Dahane who first told me of Maurice Garrel’s childhood in Morocco. The opening night of this year’s National Film Festival paid tribute to those who exited life’s stage all too soon. One of the highlights of that evening, and indeed of this 14th edition, was the screening of an excerpt from Ali Essafi’s unfinished documentary on the filmmaker Ahmed Bouanani (1938-2011), whose widow Naima unexpectedly died last December, while working on Jillali Ferhati’s new film. Naima’s departure is a particular loss to me and my students; we had just met her a month prior, in a special workshop on her husband’s legacy, organised by the Cinémathèque de Tanger. Naima was an extraordinary woman, full of life and of cinema. If Bouanani (filmmaker, editor and theorist) is Morocco’s Eisenstein, then together they formed a Moroccan equivalent of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet. Born in 1947 and wed to Bouanani shortly after he returned from his studies at L’IDHEC in 1965, she went on to become his closest collaborator, working as his script supervisor, costume designer and set decorator. In addition, Naima also exercised her multiple talents for other directors. Her daughter, Touda, told me of the frequent times her mother would leave home to work on location. Here she is with Daniel Dafoe on the set of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and the on the right, in a photo shot by a Vogue photographer in the early 1980s. (Photos Coll. Touda Bouanani)
This year, I had the privilege to experience the National Film Festival not just as a journalist for Senses of Cinema, but also as a juror for the shorts selection. If as a juror I missed out on the-morning-after discussions — both for lack of time and for fear of being influenced — I nonetheless had the chance to witness the festival behind-the-scenes and to get to know several of my illustrious co-jurors. It was a pleasure, for instance, to meet Jacques Dorfmann, the French film producer who presided over this year’s feature-length jury. During the first night’s dinner, I informally interviewed him about his family, because I knew there was a Bresson connection. Dorfmann himself is the son of another well-known film producer, Robert Dorfmann [Bunuel’s Tristana (1970), Melville’s Le Cercle rouge (1970) and Tati’s Trafic (1971)] who during WW2 hid out in Toulouse with another producer, Pierre Braunberger, both Jews. Dorfmann might have been in hiding, but that didn’t stop him from spending time with a local girl and Jacques Dorfmann was born in 1945. His mother died when he was young and Dorfmann was subsequently raised by his father and stepmother, Agnès Delahaye. Bresson aficionados will remember Delahaye as having produced both Pickpocket (1959) and Le Procès de Jeanne d’Arc (1962). She was surely one of the first French female producers, slightly preceding another Bresson producer, Mag Bodard (Au hasard Balthazar, 1966). And I was fascinated to learn from Jacques Dorfmann that his stepmother and Bresson, who were close, once paid a visit to the pope in Rome! Unfortunately, my attentiveness to Bresson caused me to overlook Jacques Dorfmann’s own catalogue of films that include such classics as Melville’s Army of Shadows (1969) and Godard and Gorin’s Tout va bien (1972).
In his closing remarks, Dorfmann paid elegant homage to the great variety of genres in this year’s competition: melodramas, biopics, comedy, documentary as well as films d’auteurs. The mere breadth of its genres demonstrates the current vitality of Moroccan film. The shorts category comprised 14 films, out of a selection of 50. Critics and public alike generally noted the high quality of the shorts selection. The jury, of which I was a member, unanimously attributed the Grand Prix to Al Hadaf (The Target). It’s no easy task to make a successful short, but The Target expertly fulfilled its promise. Salah Bensalah (from Hicham Lasri’s The End) stars as Tarik, a Berber who has moved to Tangier in the hope of a better life. His plans, however, remain vague and between the film’s title and the rudimentary Spanish lessons he practices by himself, we begin to fear the worst. But the filmmaker, Munir Abbar, adroitly derails our narrative expectations at the film’s closure. It was wonderfully filmed by the German cameraman Albrecht Silberberger, whose credits include gaffer on both Polanski’s The Pianist (2002) and The Ghost Writer (2010).
In 2011, the feature-length competition of the FNF opened its doors to the documentary genre, with Nabil Ayouch’s My Land and Hakim Belabbes’ Fragments.This year, the genre was represented by Kamal Hachkar’s Tinghir Jérusalem: Les échos du Mellah, which was honoured with an award for best first film. At the outset of his film, Hachkar who is himself a Moroccan of plural identities (Berber, Muslim, Arab, French) notes that he wants to “relever une mémoire refoulée” (“find a repressed memory”). His film emphasises the fraternal relations between the Tinghir Muslim and Jewish communities, before the last Jewish family emigrated in 1964 during the countrywide exodus, shown in historical footage, particularly moving. This documentary reminds us that the Jewish community in Tinghir had lived there two millennium, before their departure.
If the overriding theme of the 2012 FNF was illegal emigration, (6) then this year it was social ills in general. Twenty feature films competed for the 14th edition, with several by novice directors and two by women. The 2013 lineup also included films by several members of the Moroccan arrière garde, such as Mohamed Aberrahman Tazi, director of the most popular Moroccan film to date (A la recherche du mari de ma femme, 1993), who presented a politically correct comedy, La vielle jeune fille (The Old Maid) that abolishes not just racial lines (the family daughter, the film’s “Old Maid” at age 30, marries the son of the Senegalese ambassador), but even more difficult to vault, class lines, when the family maid is relieved of her domestic duties so she can marry one of the daughter’s friends. In Tanjaoui, Mimoun Smihi offers an autobiographical bildungsroman, on growing up in Tangier in the 1960s, when Moroccan society was caught between the vestiges of its colonialist past with French professors and a burgeoning youth movement, champing at the bit of the increasingly tight reins of the then King, Hassan II. Farida Benlyazid, one of the first women in Morocco to become a director whose film Une porte ouverte sur le ciel won for best screenplay at the third FNF in 1991, focuses in her new film, Frontieras, on the question of the Moroccan Sahara, while Hassan Benjelloun’s current film, La Lune rouge, is a fictionalised biopic of the Moroccan composer Abdeselam Amer, known throughout the Arab world. This year’s festival also included the third installment in the Elle est diabétique series by the children of the original’s director, Hakim Noury.
While all of those films were interesting, the public was most eager to see the offerings of two other directors, Nabil Ayouch and Nour-Eddine Lakhmari. Ayouch at 44 is already a well-established director with such internationally award-winning films as Ali Zaoua (winner of some 44 awards, including the Grand Prix of the 6th FNF in 2001, and Morocco’s entry for the 2000 Oscars) and Whatever Lola Wants (Grand Prix of the 10th FNF in 2008). Because of the importance of Ayouch’s new film, Les Chevaux de Dieu, it will be the focus of the second part of this article.
Much was also expected from Lakhmari’s Zéro, the second installment in his Casablanca trilogy that began with Casanegra. Representing Morocco for the 2010 Oscars, Casanegra owed its popularity for daring to push the envelope in what could be shown in Moroccan cinema: violence, crude language and unabashed sex in the country’s economic capital. (7) (Judging by the number of films shot there, Casablanca — from Michael Curtiz’s eponymous but nonetheless studio-shot film  to Mohamed Lasli’s wonderfully titled Les Anges ne volent pas sur Casablanca  — seems to particularly inspire filmmakers. I can imagine an exciting series made up of films shot there.)
In his new film, currently showing in theatres here, Lakhmari returns to the city’s underbelly. It’s the story of a cop, nicknamed Zero. He’s down on his luck, oppressed by a venal superior, until his life is turned around … by a good woman. If the theme seems hackneyed, it’s worth remembering how many film classics have been made out of well-worn stories. After all, there all only a handful of stories to be told, with of course endless variations. It’s a humbling reminder of just how hard it is to write a successful screenplay. Still, the seriousness of the filmmaker’s intentions offset the story’s banality, as Lakhmari points a finger at the corruption still prevalent in Moroccan society.
According to the filmmaker, Zéro:
asks some interesting questions about Moroccan society and how Moroccans behave. It’s about looking for that love inside a person. In my opinion, there is primarily a problem with love. People just don’t love themselves enough. In this film I’m trying to say that we must stop waiting for Mum, Dad or the Government to do things for us. We must work on ourselves. Ask the right questions. What are we doing for our country? What are we doing for ourselves? We put up with religious and political pressure and we don’t do anything about it because we are too acquiescent. If we no longer accept the situation, all we have to do is focus on change. You can’t move forward with an army of ‘assisted’ folk. We have to produce things. We are capable of doing this. (8)
With his kennedyesque outlook (“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”), Lakhmari certainly raises some excellent points.
Another feature film in this year’s lineup, Abdeslam Kelai’s Malak, seems germane here. Set in Tangier, it’s the unrelenting drama of the 17 year-old, Malak, whose given name means “angel” and whose existence is upended after becoming pregnant. Rejected by her older boyfriend and family, she leaves home only to discover the ongoing trials and tribulations of an unwed mother-to-be. Obviously, the problem of unwed, adolescent mothers is not unique to Morocco. In the not so distant past, the stigma on single mothers and their offspring around-the-world was great. In Paris, while finishing my dissertation, I interviewed a close collaborator of several New Wave filmmakers whose early life was psychologically scarred because he was a “bastard”. And in the bucolic part of western Massachusetts where I grew up, a neighbouring town, nestled in the Berkshire Mountains, then held the state’s record for … teenage mothers. In the past decade, North Adams has undergone an economic miracle and is known today for its internationally recognised contemporary art museum, MASS MoCA, located in a renovated factory. The respected Malian filmmaker Souleymane Cissé, devoted his first feature film, Den Muso (The Girl, 1975), to a young girl unable to speak who is raped who similarly suffers the rejection of her family when she becomes pregnant. The filmmaker “wished to expose the situation of the many teenage-mothers who are treated as social outcasts. The fact that my heroine is mute symbolises the evident: in my country, women have no access to speech.” (9)
In awarding the film, three major prizes (Special Jury Prize, Screenplay, and Lead Female Role), this year’s jurors acknowledged the tonic effect of a film like Malak, for raising and perhaps even slowly changing consciousness. (British filmmaker, Deborah Perkin, whom I recently met at Al Akhawayn University, is currently finishing a documentary on this topic, entitled Bastards: Sex and Single Mothers in Morocco.) (10) The wife of one of my fellow jurors, Houria, told me how her cleaning lady was devastated last year, upon learning that her daughter, then preparing for the bac, was pregnant. But for once, this is a story with a happy ending. Thanks to Houria and her husband’s help, the woman and her boyfriend married. Despite their young age, they are happily setting up marital life. What made the difference was Houria’s welcoming reaction that enabled her cleaning lady’s family to “save face.” Of course, this woman also lives in a big city, where mores tend to evolve more rapidly.
Still, for a Westerner like myself, it’s occasionally hard to fathom the obstacles that Moroccan women, particularly those living in the country, regularly face. Take, for example, the case of Hind in Mohamed El Aboudi’s powerful documentary Dance of Outlaws, which won a social justice award at Locarno last year. Like Malak, she, too, is abandoned by her family when she becomes pregnant, after being raped at the age of 14. To support herself, she becomes a wedding dancer, living in a hovel with no electricity or running water. But Hind’s real problems are less material — although those are substantial — than administrative: her family refuses to give her her birth certificate. Consequently, she and her children have no identity cards and no official existence. Just how many such stateless people exist here in the Kingdom? Hind’s a tough customer, not always easy to like, but also compelling. She has incredible moxie and a strange, androgynous beauty. As is often the case with persons who lack all kinds of social infrastructures to help them get back on their feet, Hind is often her own worst enemy; currently she is serving a prison term. The jury made a courageous choice, in awarding this film a special mention, in the hope that the administrative nightmare of Hind (and hopefully, others like her) will soon be resolved.
The arthouse category included Hakim Belabbes’ wonderful Defining Love that, like his entry last year, expertly navigates the terrain between fiction and documentary. Therein, he recounts the legend à la Romeo and Juliet of two lovers, Isli and Tisselt, in the Atlas mountains whose families refuse to let them marry. According to the legend, their ensuing tears formed two lakes bearing their names. Like André Téchiné in France, Belabbes has a real eye for his native landscapes. The way he moves between legend and the contemporary against a breathtaking landscape reminded me of Naomi Kawaze’s beautiful Japanese film, Hanezu, which I saw last September in the Women’s International Film Festival of Salé. (11) The documentary thread enters when the filmmaker attempts to find two actors to play the star-crossed lovers. Adhering to the early Stanislavsky ideal of affective memory from which an actor can draw upon to portray a role, the urban actors renounce their mythic roles, because they’ve never experienced an enduring love. Two years ago, Belabbes won the Grand Prix for his autobiographical documentary, Fragments. This year, his film was singled out for the editing prize.
Another arthouse entry in this year’s line up was Mon frère by Kamal El Mahouti, who won the Best Director award at the 2012 Dubai Film Festival. El Mahouti’s first feature Mon frère tells the troubled story of a Franco-Moroccan painter, Mo Bin Bensalah, who lives in a housing estate near Paris and suffers from schizophrenia. Following the break-up with his partner, Mathilde, he throws himself into his art. Some of his work recalls that of Yves Klein (his body paintings), while he also executes haunting self-portraits with oversized eyes with deep shadows around them. His father wants him to marry a girl from the family bled, but he’s still in love with Mathilde. The protagonist’s illness seems to be a metaphor for the difficulties faced by French Beurs, torn between conflicting allegiances. Throughout the film, Mo writes letters to his brother, heard in voiceover. He is “cured” at the film’s end, when he buries his imaginary double in Morocco and returns to his life in France.
To date, Nabil Ayouch has shown that he is not afraid to tackle sensitive topics. His breakthrough film Ali Zaoua, prince de la rue brought to international attention the plight of homeless boys, eking out an existence on the streets of Casablanca. Before taking a hard look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his 2011 documentary My Land, he begins by positioning himself: Moroccan Muslim father, French Jewish mother from Tunisia. In his latest film, Les Chevaux de Dieu, which screened in Un Certain Regard (where it won the François Chalais Prix) at Cannes last year, Ayouch depicts several disenfranchised youths of the Casablanca slum, Sidi Moumen, who became self-proclaimed martyrs when, on 16 May, 2003, they simultaneously blew themselves up in five different locations in the city, killing 45 persons, most of whom were Moroccan. In a recent interview, Ayouch was asked why this subject interested him. His response is worth quoting in full:
Because I was doubly shocked in the aftermath of the attacks of 16 May, 2003. First, because my country had been attacked. And then, because Morocco was attacked from the interior, not by extremists or fanatics from Iraqi or Afghani camps, but by young men from the slums who lived five kilometres from me. They were in their 20s. Most of them had never even visited the centre of Casablanca. And they touched the nerve of Moroccan identity, which is essentially based on cultural diversity and multiculturalism, different communities, different races, different religions. That is what was attacked on 16 May, 2003. (12)
Ayouch based his film on Mahi Binebine’s 2010 novel, Les Etoiles de Sidi Moumen. (13) The director’s earlier film, Ali Zaoua — also partially filmed in Sidi Moumen — ends on an upbeat note, but one can easily imagine Ali Zaoua’s friends (Kwita, Omar and Boubkar) becoming human bombs, as do Yachine, Hamid, Nabil and Fouad. Les Chevaux de Dieu opens with a flash-forward: Yachine, the narrator, and Nabil are chatting together in their tent, the night before blowing themselves up. Yachine wonders what his “girlfriend” (the two only exchange a few words and glances in the street.) Ghizlaine will think after she hears the news. From there, the narrative moves back in time, opening on a desolate terrain where our protagonists — now boys — play football. The narrative is driven by the rivalry between Yachine and his older brother, Hamid, a petty criminal. Their mother exacerbates this rivalry by favouring her elder son, who brings home his booty. After doing time in prison, Hamid joins the ultra-strict brothers and convinces Yachine and his friends (Nabil and Fouad) to do so too. As in Ali Zaoua, Ayouch makes excellent use here of non-professional actors, most of whom grew up in Sidi Moumen. Stylistically, the filmmaker makes repeated use of overhead shots of the slum (this seems to be a stylistic trope for the director; he already employed such shots in Ali Zaoua.) (14) For this viewer, these shots evoke images of another shantytown, Nanterre, in Jacques Panijel’s Octobre à Paris (1962; 2011), where a Maghrebin population lived quietly until their pacific demonstration on 17 October, 1961 against an unjust curfew led to murderous reprisals long covered up by the French government. (15)
Ayouch punctuates his story with several historical markers, shown on television: first the death of Hassan II on 23 July, 1999, then the destruction of the Twin Towers on 11 September, 2001. Finally, right before the attacks of 16 May, 2003, we are informed of the birth of Mohamed VI’s son and heir on 8 May, 2003, this last “event” a stark reminder that our protagonists are themselves barely out of childhood. But Yachine, Hamid, Nabil and Fouad belong to the have-nots of this world. One date, though mentioned, seems insufficiently emphasised in this chronology: the Fall of Baghdad that same spring. On 14 April, the U.S. declared victory in Iraq. That the Casablanca attacks took place two weeks after George W. Bush delivered his Mission Accomplished speech on 1st May is hardly irrelevant.
In the book, as in the film, these young men, whose career choices seem limited to dealing in dope or selling oranges, are attracted to a terrorist cell, which gives them direction. The camerawork, up until this point handheld, conveys their new sense of purpose by now becoming stable. I have heard criticisms of both the book and the film for an overly simplistic depiction of the motivations of these men and an “over-determined” representation of poverty, while Jean-Michel Frodon describes the film’s “clichés misérabilistes”. (16) Such criticisms, however, miss the mark and echo the dismissal by the then-Italian-Minister Giulio Andreotti, in the 1950s, of Italian Neorealism as “dirty laundry that shouldn’t be washed and hung to dry in the open.” Today, many seem to fear images of extreme poverty. How to film it? Should one follow the example of Luis Buñuel whose 1933 Land without Bread was so caustically ironic that it continues to this day to be misunderstood? Or should one do like Abbas Kiarostami? He has said he abhors the images of poverty, and in his Iranian films, this graduate of a Fine Arts School, prefers to “clean up” his natural locations before shooting. Kiarostami is unquestionably an outstanding filmmaker, but such an aesthetic and esthétisant parti pris has no place in this particular film. Extreme poverty is at the crux of this narrative and of the current geopolitical context. (The fact that the Catholic cardinals have for the first time elected a pope from the southern hemisphere who identifies with Saint Francis of Assisi, renowned for his work among the poor, intimates that the Catholic Church has perhaps finally understood the importance of addressing the millions of have-nots of this world. During his time as an archbishop in Buenos Aires, Pope Francis was a regular visitor to a giant slum, known as 21-24, “where 45,000 live in extreme poverty.”) (17)
Initially, Ayouch intended to make a documentary about the victims. His thorough research included interviewing witnesses and family members of the deceased in the aftermath of the events. (18) Over time, realising that the victims were on both sides, he decided he wanted to make a narrative film on the perpetrators, to give them a face. But the filmmaker is no proponent of a Zolaesque determinism, which would claim that all youths living in such slums are destined to become terrorists. Rather, his goal is to portray the tragic destiny of the youths, historical figures, who existed on society’s margins. Perhaps they did have alternatives, but the book and the film both point to a grave lack of viable authority figures in their lives. This compounded with:
The absence of state structures and infrastructures, social ties, cultural ties, identity ties, all these elements provoke isolation. There is no social disposition, no entertainment, no cinema; there is no means of expression. This state of things creates a kind of sclerosis, after a time their only referent is religious and extremist. When there is no possibility to project oneself into the future, you naturally become fragile. We are like fruit on a tree that begins to ripen, ripens, then after a time, falls. And there are people there who are ready to catch you. (19)
At this year’s FNF, Les Chevaux de dieu picked up two lesser awards (cinematography and best original score), an indication, possibly, of the general difficulty in coming to terms with this painful memory.
One closing thought: last year while teaching a Film Analysis class, I spent time looking at clips from Dreyer’s Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928). Falconetti’s performance exemplifies Samuel Fuller’s definition of the cinema as emotion; watching the actress, one of my students remarked, literally gave her goose bumps. A few days later, I had a strange (albeit anachronic) insight that Joan of Arc was the French, Catholic counterpart of a modern-day kamikaze who dies for his religion… Of course, she didn’t commit suicide, but her actions led, ineluctably, to her death. Ten years after the end of the Great War, the French were interested in making a film about this teenage folk hero, canonised in 1920 but heretofore reviled by French Republicans, as a way to celebrate and to sanctify their recent victory over the Germans. In contrast, Les Chevaux de Dieu doesn’t glorify its anti-heroes. That is why Ayouch changed Binebine’s title Les Etoiles de Sidi Moumen, referring to the boys’ soccer team, for fear of seeming to extol their acts by calling them “stars”. The filmmaker took his own title from a phrase from the first jihad (“Climb, Horsemen of God, so that the gates of heaven open to you.”) (20) Like the New German Cinema — Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979), Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum (1979), and even more pertinent in this context, von Trotta’s Marianne and Julianne (1981), the story of two sisters, one of whom becomes a terrorist — that attempted to come to terms with a heavy, paternal legacy, Ayouch tries to understand the motivations of these young men, so that such acts will not be repeated. Two critics, writing in VH magazine, call Les Chevaux de Dieu a work of aggiornamento (a bringing up to date). (21) The Italian word, however, doesn’t go deep enough; the film is more a work of what is called in German a Vergangenheitsbewältigung (a coming to terms with the past). Hicham Lasri’s The End (2011), dealing with the leaden years under Hassan II, is another Moroccan example of this genre. Nabil Ayouch should be applauded for being the first to make a narrative film on this recent, tragic event that has indelibly marked Moroccan history.
In his closing remarks, Nour-Eddine Saïl emphasised the importance of developing the exhibition sector in order to stimulate the country’s cinema. At present, Morocco is down to a mere 64 screens, while in its heyday, it boasted some 300. In 1971, Saïl defended Hamid Benani’s Wechma, recognised as the first Moroccan fiction film, so that it would be screened in theatres. Only 3,000 people saw it, but the film nevertheless had a public showing. In contrast, 150,000 spectators have to date seen Lakhmari’s Zéro. Whereas [Lahcen Zinoun’s Femme écrite (2012), a challenging art film, has had just 30,000 spectators.] The production rhythm in Morocco, Saïl proudly noted, has remained steady for the past several years, but acknowledged that the quality is sometimes mediocre. For Saïl, this is absolutely normal, because the country is still in a transitional period, as its film production continues to grow and develop. In 2012, Moroccan films participated in 145 festivals in the world, winning 60 awards. Last October, the Moroccan government, to show its serious investment in cinema and the audiovisual, held meetings over two days in Rabat, which I was invited to attend and where prospective guidelines were drawn up. Particularly exciting, for the future of this national cinema, is the anticipated opening of a new national film school, L’ISMAC, in Rabat. This institution, together with the already existing film programs in the country, signify that in the near future the Moroccan film industry will be increasingly autonomous and self-reliant.
For a complete list of this year’s FNF award winners, please consult: http://www.ccm.ma/fnf14/palmaresnat9.asp
Festival National du Film
1-9 February 2013
Festival website: http://www.ccm.ma/fnf14/
- Y.C., Interview with Salvatore Leocata, Director of the Festival international du film independent de Bruxelles and journalist for Radio Almanar, “Très peu de pays dans le monde qui ont un festival national du film”, Le Journal du Festival National du film, no. 5, 6 February, 2013, p. 1 [n.p.].
- Y.C., Interview with Vincent Malausa, “Les films marocains ont un rapport assez fort au public”, Le Journal du Festival National du film, no. 5, 6 February, 2013, p. 1 [n.p.].
- See my review of the 2011 edition, “The Arab Spring and Maghrebin Cinema”, Senses of Cinema, 2011.
- Youssef Aït Akdim, “Maroc: Mohamed Majd, fidèle parmi les fidèles”, Jeune Afrique, 25 January 2013. Consulted 7 March, 2013.
- Claude-Jean Philippe was born as Claude Nahon in Tangier in 1933. In 1954, he moved to Paris, where he studied at L’IDHEC. See: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude-Jean_Philippe.
- Sally Shafto, “Between Europe and Africa, Inch’Allah: Morocco and its 13th National Film Festival in Tangier”, Framework, spring 2012.
- Florence Beaugé, “Casanegra, film-vérité sur Casablanca, dévoile la face sombre du Maroc”, Le Monde, 28 January 2009.
- Nour-Eddine Lakhmari quoted in: Malika Guilleman-Loudifa, “We don’t love ourselves enough”, Royal Air Maroc Magazine, no. 177, January-February 2013, p. 60.
- “Ciné Star: Souleymane Cissé, le griot malien”, L’Opinion [Morocco], 30-31 March 2013, p. 10. Author’s translation.
- See my report on this festival: “Hollywood is in Salé, Morocco”, Framework, autumn 2012.
- Siegfried Forster, “Nabil Ayouch: ‘La violence a une source”, RFI, 18 February 2013.
- Casablanca: Le Fennec.
- Amale Daoud and Nabil Ayouch, “Interview: Nabil Ayouch, ‘On ne se laissera pas faire,’” BM, no. 35, February-March 2013, p. 26.
- See “An Interview with Jacques Panijel on the Making of Octobre à Paris”, Framework, online edition, spring 2012, translated by Sally Shafto.
- Jean-Michel Frodon, “Des printemps ne font pas le cinéma (Le Repenti, Les Cheveaux de Dieu, Après la bataille)”, Slate, 21 May 2012. Consulted 13 March 2013.
- Sam Jones, et al., “Pope Francis: A Man of Joy and Humility, or Harsh and Unbending?”, The Guardian, 15 March 2013.
- Nabil Ayouch, “A Bâtons rompus”, Interview with Omar Mrani and Laurence Oknine, VH magazine, no. 117, February 2013, p. 48.
- Nabil Ayouch, “A Bâtons rompus”, Interview with Omar Mrani and Laurence Oknine, VH magazine, no. 117, February 2013, p. 38. Author’s translation.
- Nabil Ayouch, “A Bâtons rompus”, Interview with Omar Mrani and Laurence Oknine, VH magazine, no. 117, February 2013, pp. 38-54.
- Omar Mrani and Laurence Oknine, ”Dans la tête d’un kamikaze”, VH magazine, no. 117, February 2013, p. 37.