Sunday, May 06, 2007

Cinema is trudging along with Jamal Belmajdoub

Copied with permission for educational use only from

Though independence was achieved in 1956, it was not until twelve years later that the first feature films directed by Moroccan film makers were made. The first two Moroccan feature films were both produced by the Centre Cinématographique Marocain (CCM), set up under the Protectorate in 1944, and directed by its employees who had previously made documentaries: Conquer to Live / Vaincre pour vivre / Inticar al-hayat (1968), co-directed by Mohamed B A Tazi (b. 1936) and Ahmed Mesnaoui (b.1926), and When the Dates Ripen / Quand murissent les dattes / Hinama yandhuju al-tamr (1968), by Abdelaziz Ramdani (b. 1937) and Larbi Bennani (b. 1930). These initial features were followed in 1969 by Spring Sunshine / Soleil de printemps / Chams al-rabi' made by another CCM employee Latif Lahlou (b. 1939), who had studied at the French film school, IDHEC, in Paris.


The limited state interest and involvement in film making led to a paucity of films in the 1970s, though during this period two film makers, Souheil Benbarka (b. 1942) and Abdallah Mesbahi (b. 1936), managed to establish themselves with three and four feature films respectively. In some respects they occupy the two opposing poles of Moroccan cinema. Mesbahi followed the pathway opened up by Mohamed B A Tazi and Mesnaoui in their first Moroccan feature, Conquer to Live, and adopted the model of the Egyptian musical melodrama in his first feature-length film, Silence, No Entry / Silence, sens interdit / Sukut al-ittliah al-mamnu (1973). Subsequently in the 1970s Mesbahi made other commercial efforts, Tomorrow the Land Will Not Change / Demain la terre ne changera pas / Ghadanian tatabaddala al-ardh (1975) and Where are You Hiding the Sun / Où cachez-vous le soleil (1979), as well as a co-production with Libya, Green Fire / Feu vert / Al-dwaw' al akhdar (1976). He also worked for a time in the Egyptian studios. Similarly, the purely commercial route followed by Ramdani and Bennani in When the Dates Ripen, was followed by the veteran amateur film maker Mohamed Osfour (b. 1927) in his sole feature-length film, The Devil's Treasure / Le trésor infernal / Al-kinz al-jahannamy (1970).

Ben Barka, in contrast, represents a more intellectual strand which runs through the whole history of Moroccan film making. Trained in film making at the Centro sperimentale di cinematografia in Rome and in sociology at the University of Rome, Ben Barka worked for five years in Italy as assistant to, among others, Pier Paolo Pasolini. His first feature, A Thousand and One Hands / Mille et une mains / Alf yad wa yad (1972), made with some European funding and widely acclaimed on the festival circuit, was an attack on the impact of tourism. He followed it with two further ambitious features in which a strong European influence is very apparent, The Oil War will Not Happen / La guerre du pétrole n'aura pas lieu / Harb al-bitrui ian taqa' (1974), a political tract in the contemporary manner of Elio Petri or Francesco Rosi, and an adaptation of a play by Garcia Lorca, Blood Wedding / Noces de sang / Urs al-dam (1977).

A highly intellectual approach and a self-conscious play with narrative form are also apparent in the work of three Moroccan film school graduates from IDHEC in Paris whose careers also began in the 1970s: Hamid Benani (b. 1940), whose debut film was the highly impressive Wechma / Traces / Washma (1970), Moumen Smihi (b. 1945), whose first film was El chergui / El chergui ou le silence violent / Charqiaw al-çoumt al-'anif (1975), and Mustapha Derkaoui (b. 1941) whose first feature was About Some Meaningless Events / De quelques événements sans signification / Anba'dh al-ahdâth biduni ma'nâ (1974). Derkaoui followed this (unreleased) debut work with the collective feature Cinders of the Vineyard / Les cendres du clos / Ramâd al-zariba (1979), made with a group of young film makers, most of whom eventually directed feature films of their own: his brother, the director of photography Mohamed Abdelkrim Derkaoui, Mohamed Reggab, Nour Eddine Gounajjar, Abdellatif Lagtaâ and Saâd Chraïbi.

Equally distinctive personal paths were also chosen by the Belgian film school graduate Ahmed al-Maanouni (b. 1944) with The Days, The Days / O les jours / Al-ayyam al-ayyam (1978); by Jillali Ferhati (b. 1948), who studied literature and sociology in France and began his career with A Hole in the Wall / Une brèche dans le mur / Charkhun fi-l hâ'it (1978); by Ahmed Bouanani (b. 1938), who followed a series of noted short films with The Mirage / Le mirage / Al-sarab (1979), a black vision of the ensnarements of city life set in the 1940s; and by the dramatist-turned-film maker Nabyl Lahlou (b. 1945), who began a series of theatrical adaptations with Al-kanfoudi (1978).

There is no sense of continuity in terms of personnel, since none of the five directors involved in the three 1960s films worked again on a feature in the 1970s. Some key films - Ferhati's A Hole in the Wall, Ben Barka's Blood Wedding, Bouanani's The Mirage, Nabyl Lahlou's Al-Kanfoudi, and the collectively made Cinders of the Vineyard - received CCM support. But the crucial experimental first features of Benani, Benbarka, Derkaoui and Smihi were given no state funding, and in all only fifteen feature films were made in the whole decade.


The increase in production during the 1980s, after the introduction by the government of the 'fonds de soutien' funding scheme, had a sharply differing impact on experienced Moroccan film makers. Abdallah Mesbahi and Souheil Benbarka, who had been the two most prolific Moroccan film makers of the 1970s, directed just one feature each in 1980s, Mesbahi making Land of Challenge / La terre du défi / Ardhu-l tahaddy (1989) and Ben Barka producing Amok (1982), an ambitious anti-apartheid drama made with funding from Senegal and Guinea as well as Morocco.

Other established directors had more production opportunities. Nabyl Lahlou directed four features in the 1980s: The Governor General of Chakerbakerbane / Le gouverneur-général de Chakerbakerbane / Al-hakim al-'am (1980), Brahim Who? / Brahim qui? / Brahim yach? (1984), The Soul That Brays / L'âme qui brait / Nahiq al-ruh (1984) and Komany (1989). Mohamed B A Tazi (co-director of the first Moroccan feature) made three features: Amina (1980), Medecine Woman / Madame la guérisseuse / Lalla chafia (1982) and Abbas or Jouha is not Dead / Abbas ou Jouha n'est pas mort (1986). But for others the maximum possible was just two features in the decade. Mustapha Derkaoui directed The Beautiful Days of Sheherazade / Les beaux jours de Chahrazade / Ayyâm chahrazad al-hilwâ (1982) and Provisional Title / Titre provisoire / 'Unwânun mu'aqqat (1984). Moumen Smihi had to wait six years after his first feature before he could make Forty-Four or The Tales of the Night / Quarante-quatre, ou les récits de la nuit (1981) and then a further six before completing Caftan of Love / Caftan d'amour / Qaftân al-hubb (1987).

Other film makers who had previously shown promise could complete only one further feature. Sixteen years after his debut with Spring Sunshine, Latif Lahlou made his second feature, The Compromise / La compromission / Al-musâwama (1986). Ahmed al-Maanouni quickly followed his widely seen first feature The Days, The Days with Trances / Transes / Al-hal (1981), but was then reduced to silence. Jillali Ferhati made Reed Dolls / Poupées de roseau / Araîs min qasab, a study of female oppression which sets the tone for his mature style, at the beginning of the decade, in 1981, but had to wait a further ten years before he worked again.

Over half the thirty-eight films produced in the 1980s were the works of newcomers and many of these did not go on to make a second film. Film directing debuts came at a rate of two or three a year and in general we find solitary debut films of quite variable quality with strikingly differing themes and subjects. Abdou Achouba (b. 1950) made Tarunja in 1980 and Hamid Bensaïd (b. 1948) directed The Bird of Paradise / L'oiseau du paradis in 1981. Mustapha Reggab (b. 1942) directed, as his only solo feature after his participation in the collectively made Cinders of the Vineyard, the widely praised The Barber of the Poor Quarter / Le coiffeur du quartier des pauvres / Hallaq darb al-fouqara (1982). He died in 1990. Also in 1982, Hamid Benchrif (b. 1948) directed his sole feature, Steps in the Mist / Des pas dans le brouillard / Khutawât fî dabâb and Hassan Moufti (b. 1935) made Tears of Regret / Larmes de regret.. In 1983 Driss Mrini (b. 1950) made Bamou. In the following year, 1984, Mustapha Khayat (b. 1944) directed Dead End / L'impasse / Al-wata; the Moscow film school graduate, Mohamed Aboulwakar (b. 1946) made a visually resplendent study of rural life, Hadda, the dramatist Tayeb Saddiki (b. 1937) adapted one of his own plays to produce Zeft, a quite unclassifiable fantasy about a peasant whose life is threatened by both past and future; and the Lodz-trained director of photography Mohamed Abdelkrim Derkaoui (b. 1945) and Driss Kettani (b. 1947) co-directed The Travelling Showman's Day / Le jour du forain / Yawm al-id (1984). In 1985 Najib Sefraoui (b. 1948) directed Sun / Soleil / Chams, an allegorical tale of a young intellectual's return to confront his feudally minded father and Said Souda (b. 1957), a martial arts specialist, made the action drama Shadow of the Guardian / L'ombre du gardien / Dhil al-hâris.

There were also two isolated features made in the 1980s by women directors: The Embers / La braise / Al-jamr (1982) made by Farida Bourquia (b. 1948), who had studied drama in Moscow, and the striking Gateway to Heaven / Une porte sur le ciel / Bâb al-sama'maftûh (1988) directed by the IDHEC graduate Farida Benlyazid (b. 1948). Benlyazid, the wife of Jillali Ferhati, had previously scripted her husband's films, A Hole in the Wall (1978) and Reed Dolls (1981) and later she co-scripted two of Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi's features, before resuming her own directing career at the end of the 1990s..

Three of those newcomers who made just a single feature in the 1980s returned in the 1990s, though in all cases only after a considerable gap. Hakim Noury (b. 1952) had to wait ten years after The Postman / Le facteur / Sâi al-barîd (1980) before he was able to direct again. Ahmed Yachfine (b. 1948), who had studied film in Los Angeles, made Nightmare / Cauchemar / Al-kabus (1984), a troubling nightmare vision of the Moroccan past from which the protagonist cannot free himself, but then had to wait eleven years. Mohamed Abbazi (b. 1938), who directed From the Other Side of the River / De l'autre côté du fleuve in 1982, did not get a second chance for fifteen years.

Few of the new film makers of the 1980s were able to make two features in the decade. Ahmed Kacem Akdi (b. 1942), however, followed The Drama of the 40,000 / Le drame des 40,000 (1982) with What the Winds Have Carried Away / Ce que les vents ont emportés (1984). Abdallah Zeroualli (b. 1939) began a first feature, The Whirlwind / Le tourbillon (1980), which was left uncompleted until 1995, when it emerged as I'm the Artist / Moi l'artiste. Zeroualli's second 1980s film, Pals for the Day / Les copains du jour / Rifâq al-nahâr (1984) was completed but failed to be released. By far the most important of the newcomers to make two features in the 1980s is Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi (b. 1942), who followed The Big Trip / Le grand voyage / Abir al-sabil (1981) with Badis (1988). Both films received foreign festival screenings and Tazi continued his career successfully into the 1990s.


The early 1990s saw the flow of productions continue at almost four films a year, but with far fewer new directors making their debuts and established directors often experiencing long gaps in output. A real sense of continuity is hard to perceive. Of those who made features early in the 1990s, Nabyl Lahlou followed his four 1980s features with The Night of the Crime / La nuit du crime / Laylat qatl (1991) but was then reduced to silence. Another established director, Moumen Smihi, completed just two features,The Lady from Cairo / La dame du Caire / Sayidat al-qâhira (1991) and Moroccan Chronicles / Chroniques marocaines / Waqa'i maghribia (1999) in the decade. Mohamed Abderrahmen Tazi was similarly able to follow his highly successful comedy In Search of My Wife's Husband / A la recherche du mari de ma femme / Abkhath ghari jawh imraaythi (1993) with its sequel, Lalla Hobby (1997).

Many other established film makers succesfully continued their careers in the new decade, but again only after a long break between films. After an eight year gap, Mustapha Derkaoui emerged as one of the most prolific of Moroccan film makers, directing in quick succession First Fiction / Fiction première / Riwâya 'ûlâ (1992), (Ga)me with the Past / Je(u) au passé (1994), The Seven Gates of the Night / Les sept portes de la nuit (1994) and a sixty-minute piece, The Great Allegory / La grande allegoryie (1995). His brother, the cinematographer and director, Mustapha Abdelkrim Derkaoui, who co-directed The Travelling Showman's Day in 1984, had to wait fourteen years for his solo directing debut, Cairo Street / Rue le Caire in 1998. One of Morocco's few female directors, Farida Benlyazid, also had to wait a dozen years to complete a second feature, Women's wiles / La ruse des femmes / Keid Ensa in 1999. After a ten year gap, Jillali Ferhati made first The Beach of Lost Children / La plage des enfants perdus / Shâtiu al-atfâl al-mafoûdîn (1991) and then Make-Believe Horses / Chevaux de fortune / Kuius al-has (1995). After a similar gap and in a similar realist vein, Hakim Noury made with The Hammer and the Anvil / Le marteau et l'enclume / Al-mitroqa wa alk-sindân (1990). He subsequently became the most prolific Moroccan film maker of the decade with Stolen Childhood / L'enfance volée (1994), The Dream Thief / Le voleur de rêves (1995), A Simple News Item / Un simple fait-divers (1997) and A Woman's Fate / Destin de femme (1998).

Souheil Ben Barka, also after a gap of over ten years, made the historical drama Drums of Fire / Les tambours du feu / Tubal al-nar (1991, later re-edited as Horseman of Glory / Les Cavaliers de la gloire, 1993). This was followed in 1996 by anotther ambitious superproduction, Shadow of the Pharaoh / L'ombre du pharaon, Mohamed Abbazi had waited fifteen years before he made his second film, The Treasures of the Atlas / Les trésors de l'Atlas / Kounous latlas (1997). No less that twenty-five years separate Hamid Benani's debut film, Traces, from his second feature, an adaptation of Tahar Ben Jelloun's novel, A Prayer for the Absent / La prière de l'absent (1995), and Larbi Bennani, co-director of the second Moroccan film in 1968, returned to film making with The Unknown Resistance Fighter / Le résistant inconnu (1995) twenty-seven years later. Equally remarkable was the film directing debut of the experienced producer Mohamed Lotfi (b. 1939) with Rhesus - Another Person's Blood / Rhésus - Le sang de l'autre (1997), at the age of fifty-eight.

Another characteristic feature of the early 1990s was the debut as directors of a number of members of the collective which had produced Cinders of the Vineyard in 1979. Saad Chraïbi (b. 1952) made Chronicle of a Normal Life / Chronique d'une vie normale / Waqâi'a min hatât âdia (1991) and Women... and Women / Femmes... et femmes (1998), Nour Eddine Gounajjar (b. 1946) directed a video, Blue Memory / La mémoire bleue / Al-dakira al-zarka (1991) and a 16mm feature The Waiting Room / La salle d'attente / Qâ at al-intidhar (1991). Abdelkader Lagtaâ (b. 1948), who had trained in Lodz, attracted considerable attention with his first feature, Love Affair in Casablanca / Un amour à Casablanca / Hubb fî al-dâr al-bayda (1990), which was followed by The Closed Door / La porte close / Bâb al-nasdûd (1994) and The Casablancans / Les Casablancais (1998).

Among the debut films by other newcomers of the 1990s was Other People's Celebrations / La fête des autres / Ayad al-akhain (1990), directed by the Paris-trained Hassan Benjelloun (b. 1950), who went on to make Yarit (1993) and Yesterday's Friends / Les amis d'hier (1997). The 16mm experimental feature Ymer or The Flowering Thistles / Ymer ou les chardons florifères (1991) proved to be the only film made by Tijani Chrigui (b. 1949), a painter who had earlier co-scripted Aboulwakar's Hadda (1984). In 1991 Naguib Ktiri Idrissa returned from teaching in the USA to show his 16mm production, Aziz and Itto: A Moroccan Wedding / Azziz et Itto: Un mariage marocain / Aziza wa Ittu. The centenary of cinema was marked by the production of Five Films for a Hundred Years / Cinq films pour cent ans with episodes by Farida Benlyazid, Jillali Ferhati, Hakim Noury, Aldelkader Lagtâa and newcomer Omar Chraïbi.

Finally, in 1997, a truly new generation emerged with Mektoub, the successful first feature of Nabil Ayouch (b. 1969), who had previously made three fictional shorts. This was followed by debuts by other younger directors: Aouchtam (1998) made by producer Mohamed Ismaîl (b. 1951), Goodbye Travelling Showman / Adieu forain (1998), the debut film of Daoud Aouled Dayed (b. 1953), who had made several short documentaries, and Mabrouk. (1999) by Driss Chouikha (b. 1953), who had previously worked in television.


Morocco made a strong start to the new millenium, with six features in 2000 alone, three by new directors. This meant that for the first time its number of directors who had completed a feature film (49) exceeded that of Algeria (46), though the number of feature films overall was still slightly smaller (102 to 107). Among the established directors, Said Souda returned after fifteen years with From Heaven to Hell / Du paradis à l'enfer (2000), Jillali Ferhati made Tresses (2000) and Hakim Noury confirmed his status as the Maghreb's most proflific director with She is Diabetic and Hypertensive and She Refuses to Die / Elle est diabétique et hypertendue et elle refuse de crever (2000). Among the new directors, Abdelmajid Rchich (b. 1942) is a veteran with many years work in documentary and short films: he made his debut in 1968. His first feature, The Story of a Rose / L'histoire d'une rose (2000) was co-scripted by Farida Benlyazid. The other two newcomers came through the current Moroccan system whereby those who successfully complete two or three fictional shorts can receive funding for a first feature - the system which saw the debuts in the late 1990s of Nabil Ayouch and Daoud Aouled Syad. Ahmed Boulane (b. 1956) completed Ali, Raabia and the Others / Ali, Raabia et les autres (2000), while Jamal Belmajdoub (b. 1956) made Yacout (2000).