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Posted at: Jan 14, 2018, 1:43 AM; last updated: Jan 14, 2018, 1:43 AM (IST)

Finding a voice of their own

Doing away with clichéd stories, contemporary Moroccan cinema is flagging issues like unemployment, drug abuse and trafficking

Ranjita Biswas

Morocco was under French colonial rule for four decades till it attained independence in 1956. But for a long time, its cultural life remained under the French influence. It was particularly true of its films. But today, contemporary Moroccan films, made by a new generation of filmmakers, are trying to shake off these influences, including classic Arabic, to establish a voice of their own. Some films shown under the section, “Special Focus: Contemporary Moroccan Cinema” at the recent 23rd Kolkata Film Festival illustrate this point. 

According to director Nour Eddine Lakhmari, “Morocco is known as Hollywood of Africa. So many films have been shot here! But our voice was not there, even in a film like Casablanca, recognised as one of the greatest films coming out of Hollywood. In the last two decades, we have been trying to talk about ourselves. Moving out of classic Arabic language, we are speaking in the local Darija dialect — a mix of Spanish, Arabic and Jewish.” 

The subjects are also moving out of the cliché, he said, tackling current issues like unemployment, drug use, trafficking, etc. 

“Moroccan films today are going through a stage of neo-realism, which blossomed in post-War Europe,” he articulated.

Lakhmari’s film Zero, which was screened at the festival, is about corruption, prostitution and a police officer’s attempt to beat the vicious circle.

Earlier when his Casa Negra was screened, people were “shocked” with the use of slang language showing the seamier side of the society. But they also realised that it was speaking of the contemporary society as it is, and not as it should be in an ideal society. The film was a hit.

“Filmmakers don’t lecture. They show reality through their work,” reminded Lakhmari. Completing the trilogy, he is now making Burnout.

Also present at the festival was Selma Bargach whose film, The Fifth String, is an evocative tribute to Moroccan music. Bargach is a researcher on music herself.

“Morocco is full of music” she said. Her film also reflects the clash of the old and the new that can resonate anywhere in the world. Malek is a talented lute player but he loves to experiment. His uncle Amir, a rigid classicist teacher, recognises his talent but is not willing to let him do so. At heart, he is also jealous of his nephew’s talent. Malek walks out of his uncle’s tutelage, struggles for a livelihood but finds his audience who appreciate his music. Amir realises his shortcomings and later leaves his music school, property — everything — to his nephew. “Innovation in art is important. Otherwise, it would remain stagnant,” Bargach believes.

“Today women account for a sizeable number of filmmakers in Morocco,” she said in a discussion. “What’s important, the perspective of women has changed. A real revolution is taking place in Morocco to put men and women on an equal footing and that’s reflected in our films too.”

Androman... Blood and Coal, an award-winning film, questions the age-old belief in a male child as an inheritor which makes Ouchen, an illegal coal miner, dress up his elder daughter as a boy calling her Androman. Things go awry when Androman falls in love, Ouchen kills her lover and she leaves the village. She returns only to challenge a man on a horse race competition, traditionally regarded as a male domain.

Sexual harassment, a topical subject now following the Harvey Weinstein affair and the #metoocampaign, is dealt with in Behind Closed Doors, where a new boss makes life of Samira, a happily married employee, very difficult because she doesn’t give in to his lustful advances. Almost on the verge of losing her job on false accusations, Samira devises a way of tackling the situation by taking his wife into confidence and trapping him in a ‘sting’ operation. 

Bollywood films are hugely popular in Morocco. The Marrakesh Film Festival sees prominent Bollywood stars participating regularly. “But in Morocco, we don’t have a star system,” the filmmakers said. The state takes an active role in filmmaking and support through funding. Today, Moroccan cinema is regarded as a pioneer in African cinema.

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