[…] No scene in the fictional «Casablanca» «was shot in Morocco», Joe tells Ilyas. Ayouch and co-writer Maryam Touzami place a harsh boundary of reality for those seeking the illusion or the ideal to fight, offering little solution beyond small expressions of resistance by the characters whose lives we see connecting without significant dramatic consequence.
[…] The characters’ stories are interesting unto themselves. The arrangement of vignettes offers a montage of faces in close-up that demonstrate the individual struggles more fervently than any explanation, and the opportunity for a more complex editing design to connect but keep separate their individual stories (Sophie Reine).
With Nabil Ayouch’s woven web of characters in his latest direction Razzia, we come to understand that the contemporary identities of Moroccan people, emerging from a long historical background of multiple suppressive regimes, are deeply complex and irreparably broken. From a closing scene between Joe (Arieh Worthalter) and Ilyas (Abedellah Didane), where they watch on in detached silence as young men violently pound one another for reasons of class, and opposing Islamic convictions, we can ask: is it safer to falsely identify with the Hollywood classic Casablanca of 1942, buoyed in the illusion of romance and heroic sacrifice, than to fight for one’s language, tradition, independence or freedom? No scene in the fictional Casablanca «was shot in Morocco», Joe tells Ilyas. Ayouch and co-writer Maryam Touzami place a harsh boundary of reality for those seeking the illusion or the ideal to fight, offering little solution beyond small expressions of resistance by the characters whose lives we see connecting without significant dramatic consequence.
Abdallah (Amine Ennaji) teaches natural science to young Berber children in a remote village in the captivating Atlas mountains. Virginie Surdej’s sweeping vision rolls out the grassless plains and trenches of these ancient mountains. Small villages are poked into its steep crevices: isolated, hostile, but seemingly protected. Abdallah is displaced from his true vocation by the systematic Arabization of his source language in the Islamisation of a fundamentalist version of the religion. He is forced to speak a language he does not know. To confine the poetry and thought of his native tongue in silence.
Salima (Touzani) is a woman that stresses a form of femininity that is both her repression and liberty. Short tight dresses, stilettoes and red lipstick bear the standard mark of a desired “woman” in contemporary Casablanca. Rewarded with a man to keep her, but also inviting deep unrest and a feeling of uselessness that Salima begins to question. Her story unfolds against a backward moment in the Country’s Islamisation where men and women protest to uphold their gender inequality; women are to cover, marry and bear children. Her own relationship while not as radically restricted, bears the mark of repression; she is not allowed to dance, smoke or work. Ayouch and Touzani provide a balanced depiction of this dilemma for women on all sides: misogyny unveils itself in many forms.
Salima’s plight is echoed in the younger Inés (Dounia Binebine) who is stuck between these two worlds. A Westernised, French-Moroccan living a rich, yet isolated existence. In one image she covers her denim hotpants in full dress and Hijab to pray to Mecca while scantily dressed dancers gyrate in a music video on television. Self-harming, deep unhappiness, her confusion promises nothing resolute. Joe the Jew is a restauranteur living a fairly decent life. We understand his minority and beset loneliness in the face of rejection by the Muslim women around him. So much so that he is even unable to have a relationship with a young prostitute. While not physically persecuted, he and his father dwell diasporically on the fringes of a society that despises them. Hakim “wants to break free”. He wants to escape his suffocated and impoverished existence through music, and the acceptance of his talent and sexuality by his deeply religious father. A fan of Freddy Mercury, he models himself on the singer providing us a moving acapella rendition of “We are the Champions” to an empty auditorium. Things do not end well for Hakim as we see his frustration and the embodiment of a governmentally oppressed peoples explode on the face of a young teenager whose blood flows for all Moroccans.
The characters’ stories are interesting unto themselves. The arrangement of vignettes offers a montage of faces in close-up that demonstrate the individual struggles more fervently than any explanation, and the opportunity for a more complex editing design to connect but keep separate their individual stories (Sophie Reine). And yet this choice of structure is ultimately perplexing. It is not clear that the situational overlapping of lives adds anything to the message, or themes of the film. The approach is dramatically weak in the end as we are left wondering about the efforts and purpose to reveal these points of connect. One wonders if they were simply left as discrete stories their juxtaposition would provide a sophisticated and more meaningful thread. Unlike Robert Altman’s expert weaving of characters in Short Cuts from Ray Carver’s short stories set in Los Angeles, we are left unsatisfied with Razzia’s attempt for a similar structure, and the unnecessary dilution of potent narratives and performances. Nonetheless, Razzia is a well written, shot and edited piece that deserves our attention.
Text: Jodie McNeilly-Renaudie
First published: July 17, 2018