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This is taken from my Master’s thesis entitled “The Representation of Moroccan Jews in Moroccan Cinema.” (2012)

 

A Bit of Luck (1994)

Tipat Mazal

We learn about the Jews’ departure to Israel from a Moroccan perspective [after analyzing Mohamed Ismail’s Goodbye Mothers, and Hassan Benjelloun’s Where Are You Going Moshe?], the author has opted for adding a film that completes the story of when they arrived to Israel. It is like part II for Where Are You Going Moshe? Tipat Mazal (A Bit of Luck) is a 1994 film which shows the emigration of Moroccan Jews to Eretz Israel[1] while following the story of a father Jojo Ben Soussan and his daughter Vivi in their journey. This is not really a Moroccan film, but the filmmaker and the theme are from Morocco. With Ze’ev Revach who plays the protagonist in the film, we learn about the Moroccan Jews’ emigration to Israel from another perspective.

It is only the first 19 minutes of this film that take place in Morocco, the rest is in Israel. It is possible that Hassan Benjelloun was inspired to make his film as an elaboration on these 19 minutes; since there are several similarities between Where Are You Going Moshe? (2007) and A Bit of Luck (1994).

Before Jojo’s departure to Israel, we see him in the cemetery praying and crying at the tomb of his grandfather asking him for blessings for a safe arrival to Eretz Israel. The tomb represents his past in Morocco that he is leaving behind, a past that died and was buried there. Shlomo (in Where Are You Going Moshe?) even took some dust and put it in his pocket to remind him of Morocco while he is by his father’s tomb.

Both Shlomo and Jojo are singers and they play the lute. We always see them singing the Moroccan song “My Casablanca, My Morocco.” It is part of their identity, Moroccan national identity. Jojo even sings it in Israel.

When Grasia’s boyfriend, Albert, learns about her departure with her husband Jojo to Israel he asks her “what are you going to do there in a country of desert?” He adds trying to convince her to stay with him “I will take you to Spain, Paris, all over the world. And you want to go to the country of hunger, Israel.” This conversation somewhat introduces us to the mood of the film. Indeed, she does not go to Israel but rather leaves with the wealthy Albert to Paris.

Importantly, Jojo tells his wife that when they will go to Israel, they will sing and dance when the Messiah comes. This shows that he is going to Israel for religious reasons, because when all the Jews of the world meet in the Promised Land, the Messiah will come. The same sentence is said by the Rabbi in Where Are You Going Moshe?

The camera moves to the boat that is taking the Moroccan Jewish population to Israel. When it was announced in Hebrew that they have arrived to Israel, we see them all running to see it singing the national hymn of Israel Hatikva which means Hope. Then we see a rainbow which is the symbol of God’s promise on earth[2], connoting God’s promise to return them to the Holy Land.

When the buses arrive to Israel, a woman is welcoming them in Hebrew, Jojo wonders if anyone understands her, but no one does. Then a woman speaking Arabic comes instead and they are all co-operating with her. We see translators of different languages; this shows that Jews are coming from all nations.

The first issue they face when they arrive to Israel is communication. Hebrew is the language spoken in Israel, and Moroccan Jews don’t usually use it for communication. While they are in Israel, there is a school for kids teaching them Hebrew. Then they are complaining about the hard life they are leading where they are only eating eggs, sleeping on the floor, and mosquitoes are everywhere. They are not paid well for the hard jobs they do. This is predicted by Shlomo’s wife who tells him “stop singing, when you get there (Israel) hard work is waiting for you.”

The film actually confirms what Albert said in the beginning, Israel is a desert and a place that needs construction. The Israel that we see in this film is only a desert, an empty space. This is the reason why Benchetrit in Goodbye Mothers asks Henry who works in construction to join the young state.

The fact that Jojo goes blind when he is in Israel is very symbolic and interestingly he is cured in Paris … and then returns to Israel (while one would be expecting him to go back to Morocco). The film ends (in Israel) with a song about Morocco.


[1] Eretz Israel stands for the Land of Israel. It will be used here as used in the film.

[2] Genesis 9: 9- 17.

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Are there Jews in Morocco? This is the first question that documentary maker, Youness Abeddour poses to local Moroccans in his documentary titled “Moroccan Judaism: A Culture in Danger.” The answers to this seemingly simple question, leads Abeddour into a rich discussion about Moroccan Judaism, in which he addresses many topics such as the history of Jews in Morocco, and questions of culture, language and identity.

Abeddour’s documentary is laid out on such way that one can understand how the past relates to the present and how an integral part of the citizenry, Moroccan Jews, came to be a part of the Moroccan landscape. Additionally, Abeddour’s documentary attempts to shed light on a few key terms, such as Zionism, that are often confounded and which often dilute such crucial conversations. Abeddour uses a variety of mediums to explore this topic, such as expert testimonials, documentary clips, and photos and through the intersections of these three means, a dynamic presentation emerges where the viewer is probed to think critically and deeply about the role of this underrepresented community, including their history and their contributions to Moroccan culture.

Of particular value to this discussion is Abeddour’s segment on how “Moroccanness,” is conceptualized as a function religion and language. This adds an interesting dimension in understanding how Moroccan Jews may have to grapple with their own identities as both Moroccan and Jewish, particularly those who speak a language other than Arabic.

Abeddour has done a great service to representing Moroccan Judaism and this documentary is critical for broadening the discussion on a minority population within Morocco. Further, this documentary is ever more important because it gives voice to Moroccan Jews, where such voices are underrepresented, and often neglected or silenced because of the political climate of the Middle East.

While the documentary was very interesting and informative, the length of the documentary was short, thus shortchanging many of the important topics that were presented in this documentary. Therefore, rather than discussing few topics in great length, many topics were addressed briefly. While this meant that the viewer emerged with more general information about this topic, it would have been interesting to see this documentary delve more deeply into specific topics such as Moroccan Jewish identity. Moreover, it would have been interesting to include more personal perspectives on how individual Moroccan Jewish perceive their identity and role in Moroccan culture and how this might relate to their conceptualization of citizenship and belongingness. That said, this documentary was definitely worth watching and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in gaining some preliminary knowledge about Moroccan Jews.

By Maha Hilal

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CasaNegraCasanegra (2008) is a Moroccan film directed by Nour Eddine Lakhmari, it has represented Morocco widely in many festivals and obtained many Awards. The movie is seen as a “success” though it has been greatly criticized for the uncomfortable “street” language used in it. Others, however, agreed that this is the Moroccan reality, the daily language that we usually hear in the streets, so nothing new. The film is given an ironical title: Casanegra which literally means the black house; it gives a pejorative image of Casablanca, the real name of the city which literally means the white house.

It is an alternative cinema, for the protagonists are marginalized characters. Much space is devoted to the people who are put in the periphery, which empowers them and gives them an opportunity to express themselves and tell their, untold, stories. We see Casablanca city through their eyes and hard circumstances, what probably makes it a black place. Interestingly, most of the scenes are shot in the dark, at night, a technique used by the director to reflect the characters’ interior anxieties.

Casanegra reflects reality, the Moroccan reality with all its contradictions. It deals with different social issues such as: poverty, social hierarchy, prostitution, homosexuality, drugs and violence. The dramatic story revolves around two ordinary young men who are put in the margin of the society. Adil suffers from his violent stepfather, who always beats his mother. This pushes Adil to stick to his dream, manifested in a postcard, and eventually plans to leave his “Casanegra”. Karim is a little more optimistic; he is more concerned with his family and falls in love with a woman, but later he suffers from love deception. Nevertheless, what unifies Adil and Karim is their attempts to do the impossible through all the means to better their social life.

Nabila (I will use the name she is given on the movie’s profile: Nabila, though she was only once referred to as Nabila by her friend) represents a modernized icon in the Moroccan society. The criteria of her modernized character are: speaking French, driving a car, wearing western clothes, going to the night club, smoking, and the fact that she is a divorced woman. To what extent does her modern and liberated life empower (or disempowers) her as a woman? And has she succeeded in creating a Third Space between tradition and modernity, Morocco and the West?

The woman in the store is westernized; there is almost nothing about her that reveals her Moroccan identity. Perhaps, this is the reason why she remained unnamed throughout the two hours movie. She has a confused Moroccan identity with a Western one; she is a ‘neither-nor’ character. This inbetweeness creates a kind of ambivalence in her personality; she is torn between two different worlds. She lives a librated western life in a Muslim country, attempting to live the West in the East, (that is, if we regard Morocco as an Eastern country, geographically speaking.) The West is mainly a modern secular world and Morocco is a Muslim society. She is flowing back and forth between two different worlds trying to create a Third Space. The woman working in the store is a westernized character par excellence, but since she lives in Morocco, so somehow she managed to live a Third Space.

Some Moroccan women take the journey of modernization, and eventually, start to criticize and be ashamed of their own culture and identity. They observe their society from dual positions: being superior looking down upon their own culture from Western lenses and being in an inferior position vis-à-vis the West. Returning to Nabila, her mimic of the West is manifested in the use of the French language and her Western clothes. Adil was making fun at his friend Karim asking him to “teach some Arabic” to her; because she uses mostly French, the language of the West. Actually, pretending to look modernized (in certain cases even superior) is the reason why some people prefer to speak French, or at least code mix French and Arabic.

Interestingly, the woman in the store is usually looked at from the outside speaking to her clients. Her voice is not heard. She is the subject of the man’s gaze and surveillance. Karim is attracted to her beauty; he sees her only as a body, as a woman who should submit to him and to his desire. He does not care about the social “hierarchy” between them although his friend, Adil, keeps advising him not to have a relationship with this woman, but he ignores him.

Nevertheless, Nabila seems to represent the bright side of Casablanca. She is an optimistic character. We never hear her saying Casanegra. Unlike Adil who is always screaming Casanegra which he has been using throughout the movie. This could be explained that she is living a happy luxurious life, away from the “dirt” of Casanegra whereas Karim and Adil’s life is full of unhappy events that cause them to see Casablanca through their hard circumstances. Basically, the choice of such linguistic forms reflects their psychological interior anxiety. And it could be seen as a disempowerment for them, a failure to face life so they escape in drugs and drinking alcohol for instance.

Karim at night goes with Adil to a corner in a very high building in the center of Casablanca, Adil screams “Casanegra”. Afterwards, Karim goes with Nabila to the same corner in the very high building, she was climbing even higher, wearing very tight clothes showing freedom, and she screams Casablanca with a very loud voice, trying to make herself heard; or as if she is trying to change the “black” reality of Casablanca. She calls for change, a change that “everyone is afraid of” according to Mernissi; probably because it is a change that seeks to decentre those who are already in the centre.

As stated before, Nabila goes to the night club with her friends. What is worth mentioning is the song she is dancing on with Karim in the night club; an optimistic song by Oum, a Moroccan westernized singer who sings in English. The song is entitled Hamdoulah (Thanks God in Arabic). The refrain goes as follows: “hamdoulah, for blessing my face, blessing my soul, giving me a piece of mind …When I’m feeling down, when I smile giving me strength, this is my dancing”. The song reflects the mood of the Moroccan woman living freedom.

The woman or chikha working in [Zrirek’s] night club is also portrayed as a, somehow, librated character, yet in a Moroccan traditional way in comparison to the Nabila. Chikha or chikhat (plural) are the kind of women who sing and dance in night clubs, some even smoke and drink alcohol, the case in the movie. But generally they have a bad reputation within the Moroccan society, therefore they are not respected. They are the type of women who are only for temporal fun, extremely objectified.

The language and taboo words the chikha in Casanegra uses as well as her actions (smoking and drinking alcohol) reveal her carelessness of what people think of her as a woman, a Moroccan woman. She has thrown values and social norms aside ignoring the extremely cultural power of hchouma [shame]. This latter seems to be a block of the freedom of Moroccan women. So by rejecting it they are free, at least from their perspective. She is defending chikhat when Adil criticizes them, so she seems proud of herself and profession. She is defined in the movie in relation to her profession.

She is a tough woman and very responsible as Zrirek says that “without her the night club wouldn’t keep going.” This might be motivated by having interest in the club for she will be the wife of the owner, Zrirek. Thus, is she really liberated? Or enslaved by man?

Ironically, the name of the night club where she works is: au Tout va bien (where everything is okay). It implies that outside is “Casanegra” and inside, the night club, everything is okay. Everyone escapes inside and forgets about the troubles of “Casanegra” by drinking, smoking, dancing and having fun.

In au tout va bien night club, a chikha is singing “kill me kill me, and close the door on me, till al Harizi (the man) comes and opens the door for me” (my translation), this indicates that even some Moroccan popular songs give power to men. They show how women are so dependent on men, and importantly the woman who is singing it, as if she is unconsciously disempowering herself.

Let’s not forget that the chikha remains throughout the movie inside her limited sphere, the night club; we never see her outside. So, is she herself escaping a bitter reality outside? Is she hiding inside the walls of “au tout va bien” and giving the illusion that she is all right? Would she be careless and not affected by hchouma when having a direct encounter with the society outside?

The actor who presented the chikha character is highly criticized; because women are usually expected to speak a good selective language and to behave in a certain way. The Moroccan audience seems shocked to see such behaviors on the Moroccan Cinema screen. The movie Casanegra is mostly watched individually; it is not a family movie. There is a great use of taboo words. The director explained this unexpected use of “street language” that it is the language of the ‘real’ Morocco, the language that we are confronted with in our daily life. He states that “we watch western movie which are full of worse insults and behaviors, still we like them and we don’t complain.” (In an interview with him in Mubachara ma’akum on 2m). The question that imposes itself here is, knowing that the scenarist and director of the movie is a Moroccan man who has lived in Norway for 20 years: Is the movie Casanegra itself a mimic of the west? In a Moroccan program where he was interviewed about Casanegra, he said that he was “disturbed by the postcards that represent Morocco in a folkloric way;” therefore, he wanted to show the ‘real’ Morocco, from his own perspective. Then, to what extent has he succeeded in representing the ‘real’ Morocco in the film?

In the movie, the mother of Adil is represented as a weak woman, victimized and silenced, we rarely hear her voice. Her first husband died, Adil’s father, and she got married again. Perhaps because she couldn’t resist living alone as a widow in the Moroccan society, so she got married seeking protection of man. This reminds me of a pertinent Moroccan proverb which states that “the shadow of a man is better than the shadow of a wall”, but is not the shadow of a wall better than the shadowing shadow of a man! Some men are in the family just the ‘present-absent’ subjects.

She is leading a miserable life with her second husband who mistreats her and uses her. She is a working woman; he beats her and takes the money she earns in order to buy alcohol. He treats her as a piece of furniture. He is much trivialized as a character; he cares about his little TV more than anything else; he threatens Adil to “cut him into pieces if he touches his TV.”

The woman, on the other hand, is very much victimized; portrayed as helpless. All she can do is cry. Her screaming seems not to be an act of rebellion but an act of defeat; when she couldn’t stand her husband beating her son, Adil. She is generally silent and when the violence causes silence, (one) must be mistaken. So who is to be blame here? The woman who submits to her husband and hopeless before him or the man who resorts to his physical strength to silence and domesticate the woman?

Adil is ready to do anything to defend his mother. While her husband is beating her, Adil defends his mother and hit his step-father with a chair on the head, which causes the fall of the authoritative aggressive man. However, and unexpectedly, the woman is yelling at her son who was trying to help her from the hands of her savage man. Naively, she is reminding her son not to “forget this man is my husband” and asking him to go away. As if it is her husband’s right to beat her, something expected and taken for granted. Probably, this is the reason why his violence is not resisted and fought against.

Adil encourages his mother to resist, and to go to declare all what her husband does to her in the police station. However, she is too vulnerable and frightened to suit her husband, though she admits that “she couldn’t resist (him) more.” Adil suggests that she goes to Taounat (A small town near Fez city) to his grandmother, and he finally could convince her. He provides her with all the money he has earned (or stolen). But she remains hesitative and anxious not to be called a “maskhouta” (Moroccan Arabic which means a naughty woman) in her village; for this is the second husband she escapes from. Actually her first husband died, as if it is her fault and she is the one to blame. She is afraid of the return, returning ‘home’. Her family will not understand her suffering and will only criticize and blame her for leaving her husband behind. Why is it a shame for a woman, but never for the man, to get divorce in the Moroccan society?

She is afraid to escape or get divorce from her husband. It is very likely that the audience would have been complaining or wondering why did she have to stay with him and stand all his dehumanizing? The wife usually sacrifices her life for the sake of her children, but this woman has no children with this husband. Is it because of a financial need of man? But she is the one who provides him with money, not the other way around; or perhaps an emotional attachment? The fear from the society and all their surface judgments could be another reason why she had to endure. When she has left, her husband asks Adil about her, and Adil replied him saying that “he brought shame to men.”

Society and the social norms have always preached that women’s space is limited in the domestic sphere: the house, it goes even further: kitchen. Besides, woman is expected to be dependent on man, simply because it is the man who is the lord of the house and the means of providence of the whole family. So everyone is under his mercy. In [Karim’s family], however, the standardized traditional spaces are somehow reversed, though the woman remains in the house – kitchen throughout the movie. Yet, it is the woman who is the lady of the house; her husband is very sick and the elder son, Karim, is not capable enough to take the family’s responsibility.

According to the Moroccan standards at least, she is an ideal Moroccan woman. She portrays a good image of a mother as well as a wife. Her husband is so sick, almost disable, and she has three children, among them Karim her elder son. She succeeds in doing her ‘duty’ as a woman in raising a good family.

Usually she gives advice to her son Karim and has authority over him in the kitchen where her voice can “be heard more easily (…) because under the patriarchal division of labor this is the space in which she [as a woman] has the greatest authority.” (Blunt, Alison. Writing Women and Space: colonial and postcolonial geographies. P: 2. 1994.) She encourages her son to get the job by el-Hajj [cleaning fish] to help supporting the family.

A woman taking responsibility in the family is not an easy task. Yet it is common in some Moroccan families. We often hear in the Moroccan society statements like: “a woman with no man is worth nothing.” But in Casanegra we see that the woman is almost everything and the other way around “a man with no woman is worth nothing.”

Karim is aware of the importance of educating girls. He brings an English dictionary to his sister because she needs it for school. Although he was made fun of when was seen with a book in his hands, he didn’t care. He did the impossible to bring the book to his sister. Importantly, it is a dictionary; a book which she would use to explain some complicated terms and concepts. Dictionary is the symbol of knowledge and learning, not any regular book. Likewise, he cares for the education of his little brother; he asks him whether he has gone to school that day. Karim is helping his sister and brother to learn and study, the thing that he seems to have been deprived of and missed.

The mother of Karim has a strong personality, unlike the mother of Adil who is completely submissive. She cares for her family. She cares for the reputation of her family. She does not have a narrow vision. She gives advice to her son. She questions the money that her son gives her; she does not accept whatever is given to her though there is a financial need in the family. Karim kissed her head showing respect; she is like a saint. She is rarely seen in the movie, yet she occupies an extremely important role.

She is not simply a passive woman in her kitchen cooking. She interacts and takes part in her family; she asks about her children and cares about their education, she makes decisions. When she is talking about her son’s friends, Adil, she addresses Karim saying “and you call (Adil) a friend”, this shows that she is not ignorant. She examines the friends of her children. She doesn’t believe the lies of Karim. She has a strong opinion. As a caring mother, she confirms the quote that “while men are concerned with an ‘ethic of justice’, women are more centered on an ‘ethics of care’.” (Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. P. 288) This is not the traditionally known “male-headed” family where there is “mastery” and “superiority”. But I would rather say a “female-headed” family.

As a conclusion of the second part; both women are unnamed. They are different women. One is submissive to her husband and not able to challenge him. The other is capable to take care of the whole family and take part in decision-making and lead a challenging life.

In the conclusion of my analysis of the Casanegra and the representation of women, I conclude that we cannot generalize and universalize Moroccan women experiences and differences. There are different categories of women: Nabila who is leading a Western life and independent from men, Chikha who ignores the society and its power, the good mother and wife who serves her family, and the woman who is re-married.

The women in the film are somehow empowered, Nabila has the power to control the fate of the man, while chikha intrudes the male space. The mother of Karim is not a passive woman who obeys men, but she controls the family. And the mother of Adil, who might look a victim, the fact that she left her husband behind reveals her power. The prostitute, who is defending the homosexual, is very important as well; she sees it as her duty to help the ‘man’. Although the movie has no feminist agenda, but it suggests reconsidering and revising the idea of the passive woman, the woman who is imprisoned in her house, or veil and is disempowered by men.

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Bab as-sma Maftouh (A Door to the Sky) is a 1988 Moroccan feature film, directed by Farida Benlyazid. The film has been widely watched and written about. In this article I will focus mainly on the issue of gender in the film focusing on the protagonist Nadia, the voice of religion and tradition Kirana and Bahia as a former self of Nadia. In the light of Suzanne Gauch’s article “Now You See It, Now You Don’t: Transnational Feminist Spectatorship and Farida Benlyazid’s A Door to the Sky.”

From the very beginning we understand that the film has a spiritual agenda. The setting is in the Moroccan spiritual city: Fez. The protagonist, Nadia, returns from Paris to Fez where her father lies dying. Soon after, in the funeral, where we see only women, Nadia is wearing a white jellaba and covering her hair and listening to Kirana’s chanting of the Quran. Eventually Nadia develops a close relationship with Kirana, who, interestingly, represents traditions and religion.

Under Kirana’s guidance, Nadia gradually discovers and later embraces her Moroccan Muslim cultural and spiritual heritage, leaving behind the Western French identity, knowing that she was living in France and is from a French mother, which is manifested through breaking up with her French boyfriend. Nadia in the beginning used to smoke and drink alcohol, later we see her praying.

Nadia decides to turn the family house into a zawiya, a shelter and spiritual center for women. Her siblings, however refuse and prefer to sell it because “it needs a lot of restorations.” Towards the end of the film, the spirit of Ba Sissi, an old friend of the family who died years ago, leads Nadia to a treasure buried in the garden, which will allow her to purchase the house. Later Nadia discovers her healing powers as a shrifa (a descendant of the prophet Muhammad), she uses this gift to cure the ill women whose problems are seemingly resolved once they are in the zawiya. Bahia, a hippie-like Moroccan girl, is introduced to the zawiya. Bahia, as Gauch argues, is a reflection of Nadia’s past. Unlike all women in the zawiya who are wearing traditional clothes and veils, Bahia is very westernized coming from France, she speaks French and has tattoos. She is looked down upon in the zawiya, only Nadia who sympathizes with her and invited her to her room.

In the end of the films, Nadia leaves the zawiya because her spirit cannot flourish there. She and Abdelkarim leave the zawiya and the city of Fez.

Benlyazid presents us with a spiritual transnational form of feminism where she develops the protagonist as an individual. She offers a soft version of Islam away from the political radical one. This explains why the film has widely circulated in the West and was praised by western feminists including Ella Shuhat. It is perplexing, however, that the film is not available in Morocco. Gauch similarly argues that the film is for a Western audience where it is recommended to be taught and to be watched by foreigners coming to Morocco. The film, for Gauch, becomes like a tourist guidebook.

Hamid Tbatou, a Moroccan cinema critic, believes that the film folklorizes (and Orientalizes) the Moroccan Culture through architecture, exotic places such as hammams and souks. The film provides images that please and flirt with the western expectations, and presents Islam as little more than magic.

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Frozen River (2008) is an American drama film written and directed by Courtney Hunt. The major theme of the film is illegal immigration. The film revolves around two single mothers who are working hard to afford for their children; one is a native Mohawk American (Lila) and the other is a white American (Ray). The two women though appear to be different, have much in common which unifies them till the end. They found hard times to get along in the beginning, but later they become business partners and friends. They share adventurous experiences transporting illegal emigrants in a car from Canada crossing borders through a frozen river to America. A frozen river, that would become a frontier when water melts!

Lila encourages Ray to take more emigrants reminding her that she is “white.” There are two types of emigrants: Pakistani and Chinese. Why exactly these two races? Why not Mexicans? There is a yellow threat: China and a green threat: Muslims. Apparently there is an ideological threat into the country especially that the Pakistani (in the films) are a couple with a child, this connotes a new Pakistani-Muslim generation is coming to America (ironically through Americans themselves). Non of the groups, however, speak any language at all.

The two American women are more concerned with survivor than being loyal to their country.  In the end, however, they were caught by the police. One of the important scenes in the film is while the two women were transporting the Pakistani couple. Doubting that they are terrorists, Ray throws their bag thinking that it contains bombs, later she discovers that it is the couple’s baby inside, and they go back hoping to save the baby. She was fooled by the mass and stereotypes, for her all aliens become suspects. The film tells us about the fear of the enemy within that dominates the American Culture and tries to implicitly criticize it.

The film was nominated to an Oscar and Gary Wolcott who entitles his article as “’Frozen River’ a big movie with a small budget” states that “Hunt proves you don’t need a big budget, or a big star to create a masterpiece.”[1] Indeed, the film is a great success although it has not a well-known star: Melissa Leo as Ray, besides it is the first experience of Courtney Hunt, which explains to some extent the reason why the film is not really known.

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[1] http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2010/06/18/1059829/frozen-river-a-big-movie-with.html

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Badis (1989) is a Moroccan film by the Moroccan filmmaker Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi. This film must have been of a great influence broadly for it had “great critical success, both locally and internationally, winning prizes or special mentions at festivals in Amiens, Montreal, Locarno, Milan, Carthage, and Meknes, among others. Tazi also had a number of stimulating experiences showing the film abroad.”[1] The film is co-produced with a Spanish television that helped in its finances. It is worth mentioning here that Tazi is married to a Spanish wife, and he was living in Spain for certain period where he got his education. Thus, to some extent the film does mirror some of Tazi’s life.

Surprisingly, and despite of the great success, Badis when released in Morocco got “close[d] after one week, drawing a total of barely three hundred spectators.”[2] It is then when the director Tazi “proposed to Spanish television (TVE) that it ‘co-produce’ the film.”[3] This means that the film, Badis, has certainly been shaped by the Spanish television’s opinion to serve a particular interest. Tazi, however, claims that nothing was changed, neither added nor removed, even a comma from the screenplay.[4]

The title “Badis” is the name of an actual village in the regions of al-Hocima. Obviously, the setting is not arbitrarily chosen; it is a village in the north of which the fort has been occupied by Spain. Tazi, however, claims that the reason behind this choice is that he simply felt in love with the place. I think it is far more than that; the village has a rich history, and it is that history that Tazi is trying to bring to the surface. There is one single setting; this means that the setting itself is of a great importance to the film, besides being the title of the film.

The opening scene gives a general view of the village with the camera moving from left to right, and the call of prayer in the background. It familiarizes the viewer with the setting of the film; it gives the impression that this tiny village is a world of men, while women are hiding within their domesticated spheres. In this atmosphere where we are introduced to the first character in the film; Moira dancing flamenco, Spanish dance. Moira eventually falls in love with the Spanish soldier who everyday goes to the village for water. Meanwhile, a school teacher moves to the village with his wife, Touria. The latter was going loose in Casablanca, and as a form of discipline, her husband brings her to the tiny village where she will be under his supervision, while throughout the film we witness that he is the one under her gaze.

Women are a complex issue, the role of women is problematized. The female characters appear to be revolutionists; Moira monopolizes her domesticated sphere to dance while the man (her father) is not there. Touria feels more comfortable when the man (her husband) is not there. The owner of the café (woman) is running loose and having an affair with the postman while her husband is abroad.

The movie is very complex in terms of its explicit themes: patriarchy, mixed-marriage, etc, as well as the implicit ones that of the journey towards the colony. Touria and Moira were seeking refuge towards the colonizer, which is, obviously, the destination of their escape. They were heading to the arms of the colonizer, running from a patriarchal prison to a military one, knowing that the fort was used as a prison as Tazi states that “up until 1976 it was a prison for opponents of Franco.” They will be imprisoned, and might be even used as sex objects in another kind of men’s world. There “escape” or journey towards the colonizer is soon interrupted by the native men.

Another important feature of the film is that all actors are central, though the story might seem to revolve around certain characters. Every individual has a central function, the teacher and his wife, Ba Abdellah and his half-Spanish daughter Moira, the all-seeing postman and his mistress the café owner. Tazi explains that “each character is rather linear and has his or her own particular story. The cafe´ owner is thinking about building a tourist hotel with the money her husband sends from abroad, the postman is looking forward to a transfer, the teacher is trying to punish his wife, the fisherman wants to keep his half-Spanish daughter on the straight and narrow. Within the setting that brings them together, each has a line to follow.”[5]

Importantly, the postman knows everything; he is the one in charge of all the private letters and the news of the whole village. Through him we have an insight into the film. He appears to be manipulative and a source of troubles. In the end of the film, he leaves the village, which he used to always call “the hole,” because he was transferred to a big city.

The final scene is very symbolic, after Moira and Touria are caught by the fishermen while attempting to escape, they are brought back to the village and eventually encircled by the men of the village. Moira starts to exhibit her body as if telling the men staring at her “here is the body that you have longed for.” All of a sudden a woman appears in the crowd and, paradoxically, throws the first stone on the women within the circle, and then followed by the others. The two women are stoned till death, this has a religious dimension of what is called in Islam the hudud[6] that a woman should be stoned till death if she is betraying her husband. The camera shows two lifeless bodies lying on the ground with a white wall in the background. Tazi explains that “it was not to kill that the old woman did this, but to stop the spectacle. Women are the guardians of tradition; the men were shocked, mesmerized, so the woman in a sense acted to protect the young women.”[7] It could also be explained that the woman is punishing them for going to the colonizers to prostitute themselves. Interestingly, the teacher, even after the women’s death, is still stoning the circle-like place where women were stoned, which could be interpreted as stoning the Satan that had embodied the two women.

The director gives no room to another ending; he believes that this is the tragic end that fits the film. According to the film, women are hard to predict and easy to go loose, and this is the tragic end of such trespassing.

badis

[1] Kevin Dwyer. Beyond Casablanca: M.A. Tazi and the Adventure of Moroccan Cinema. (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2004) P, 154.

[2] Ibid., p. 154.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., p. 161.

[5] Ibid., p. 178.

[6] Religious punishments based on Shari’a.

[7] http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Audio_Visual/North_African_10051.html

 

Bibliography

Dwyer, Kevin. Beyond Casablanca: M.A. Tazi and the Adventure of Moroccan Cinema. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2004.

www.africa.upenn.edu

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Morocco (1930) is a movie that takes place in Mogador – Morocco. It deals with the colonial presence in Morocco. Looking at the general review of the movie we see that on the surface it deals with a love story. Ishtar (1987) is an American comedy movie which takes place near the Moroccan border – Ishtar.

Morocco hasn’t got much of a plot; Amy Jolly falls in love with Cooper, the French Foreign Legion. In this movie the director Josef Von Sternberg focuses more on the Oriental representation of Morocco; there is an obvious Arabnightizing of Morocco in terms of music, decoration, lascivious women, etc. Ishtar is directed by Elaine May. The cover shows a blind camel in the act of singing framed within an Aladanian gate. In another version of Ishtar’s cover, there are two American men wearing Oriental clothes and trying to move the blind camel forcefully, and hills of sand in the background. The movie revolves around two untalented lounge American singers and songwriters, Chuck Clarke and Lyle Rogers, who travelled to Morocco looking for work, and all of a sudden they found themselves entangled into Middle Eastern politics and war. Eventually, the fate of the entire Middle East is in the hands of these two American men. Again in this movie Morocco is represented as mysterious, and again the same static image of Morocco: camels, sand, primitive people, etc. The American woman, Shirra, disguises her real identity wearing native man’s clothes throughout the movie.

Morocco, in both movies, is represented as an empty space that is occupied mainly by Westerners. Natives are not given space; they are just there confirming the exploitation of their space with no action, and only giving a local touch to the films. Westerners who are in control of the action and of the fate of the native’s country. The titles of these movies remain just attractive names, inviting the West to conquer and colonize this empty space.

Morocco 1930                                Ishtar 1987

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