Dir.: Fyzal Boulifa; Cast: Aicha Tebbae, Abdullah El Hajjouji, Antoine Reinartz; France/Belgium/Morocco 2022, 110 min.
A mother and son embark on an eventful odyssey across Morocco in this daring and strikingly beautiful sophomore feature from award-winning British-Moroccan writer/director Fyzal Boulifa (Lynn + Lucy).
Fatima-Zahra (Tebbae) is a 43-year-old widow and extremely alluring, although rather naive: dressing provocatively she tries to seduce a much younger man in a secluded spot near Tangier beach and is robbed off her jewellery. Her relationship with her 16-year-old son Selim (Hajjouji) swings between over-protectiveness and harsh criticism: the two are interdependent and neither of them has really grown up.
From a squalid studio accommodation in town the odd couple hitchhike a lift to relatives in the country. But they are not welcome in the midst of preparations for a wedding. We also learn that Fatima has a few skeletons in the cupboard: ostracised by local society after being raped in her twenties – Selim was the offspring – she was forced into sex work to support her son.
Selim is eager to get back to Tangier and break free from his mother’s influence. Abdoul, a shady character, offers him a job on a building site, but really lines him up for sex with Sebastien (Reinartz), a wealthy Frenchman. The two hit it off to Salim’s surprise, and he quite takes to Sebastien who later apologises to him. The Frenchman then employs Selim on a regular basis, and Fatima tells her son she is working for a well-known brand in the fashion industry – in reality she is working for a minimum wage in a sweatshop.
Fatima meets a bus driver who wants to take her on as his second wife, his existing spouse suffering from mental problems. But Selim sabotages the planned marriage, telling the husband-to be the truth about his mother. When Sebastien’s partner from Paris arrives, Selim reacts with extreme jealousy and channelling his anger into criminal behaviour that will inadvertently separate him from his mother for the first time.
DoP Caroline Champetier follows the mother and son across the Moroccan landscape and the imposing urban backdrop of Tangier: her handheld shots scope out narrow alleys, and sordid domestic interiors that contrast with Fatima’s imaginative embellishment of reality. Tebbae and Hajjouji are brilliant as the destructive couple, driving each other further and further into the quicksand of social deprivation. A tight script helps, and Boulifa uses all his running time to push the narrative forward. An award-winning first film is always a difficult act to follow but this talented filmmaker triumphs with an even more impressive second feature. AS
IN CINEMAS AND ON CURZON HOME CINEMA | 7 JULY 2023