Dir. Mohcine Besri. Switzerland-Morocco. 2018. 85 mins
A Casablanca hospital is the setting for this auteurish and visually appealing arthouse drama that connects a group of Moroccans from different walks of life and touches on universal themes of healthcare in crisis and how it affects the community’s physical and emotional wellbeing. URGENT is Moroccan writer-director Mohcine Besri second feature and his Golden Star hopeful at Marrakech Film Festival 17th edition.
On a Casablanca motorway flyover a man is contemplating suicide when rather than trying to talk him out of his resolve a passing wayfarer simply asks him for his pack of cigarettes a then his scarf.
Besri affecting drama establishes a graceful rhythm in its narrative of connecting stories and is gently moving without resorting to sentimentality or melodrama. His scientific training has given him a sense of spatial awareness and each corner of the frame is constantly put to use in providing interest throughout although the pace slackens in the final act. This subtle narrative inconsistency provides the subtle humour throughout, especially when the man’s suicide is thwarted by a lorry-full of unsuspecting sheep, which then causes a traffic jam where we meet the rest of the characters and the action moves to the more intimate setting of the hospital where the drama plays out before returning to its original location.
Writing with Cécile Vargaftig Besri introduces to local fisherman Driss (Rachid Mustapha) and his wife Zahra (Fatma Zahra Banacer), who have come to the hospital with their little son Ayoub who is in danger of losing movement in his legs. The hope is that Driss’s brother Houcine (Saïd Bey), will provide for the treatment by paying them back a loan. Clearly this is not going to happen but Houcine feels guilty and the hospital cannot provide treatment for free due to stretched resources, and so they all prepare for the worst.
Meanwhile Ali, the motorway man, is recovering from his sprains and confiding in the hospital staff about his reasons for wanting to end his life. Clearly ‘heartache’ is the reason “but not a woman” and Besri wisely leaves this enigma hanging in the air: They won’t let you die in peace. And when you want to live…”
The hospital is packed with patients and their families but
unwisely Besri lets his antihero Saïd Bey’s Houcine off the hook. URGENT is full of interesting interactions, a sort of arthouse version of BBC TV’s Casualty soon develops this enjoyable and affecting story elliptically to its close. MT
MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018