Friday, September 01, 2006

3. Mohamed Asli's debut feature from Morocco "Al Malaika la tuhaliq fi al-dar albayda" (2004)

This is one of the finest Arab films, set in the Berber community of Morocco, evoking neo-realist images--a superb debut. The English title: In Casablanca, angels don't fly.

This is a rare gem. A deceptively simple film with uncharacteristically fine production values (for an Arab film) in editing, direction and performances. It evokes memories of de Sica's Bicycle Thief, Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala, Tavianni brothers Padre Padrone and Ermanno Olmi's The Tree of Wooden Clogs. I stumbled on this considerably unsung film at the Dubai international film festival.

At a simplistic level, the film is about the travails of urban migration. Three pipe-dreams of three workers in a busy Casablanca restaurant interweave the screenplay--one dreams of a better, richer family life, one dreams of caring for his steed, and one dreams of wearing an expensive pair of shoes.

But Moroccan director Mohamed Asli presents a debut effort that would put weather-beaten directors to shame. He presents tragi-comedy that comes alive with brilliant sound editing (Raimodo Aeillo and Mauro Lazaro) as he cuts from a suicidal jump in a dream to a neighing, prancing horse; inventive camera-work (director Asli and cameraman Roberto Meddi) utilizing a camera placed on a roof of a bus weaving through Casablanca traffic behind a sack of bread destined as feed for a horse miles away in quick-motion; evocative performances by non-professional actors who slide through heavy road traffic like ballet dancers with a tray full of beverages and snacks; and the quixotic efforts of a simple man to keep his new pair of shoes clean and safe.

These are not unreal dreams. Every urban migrant has similar dreams. But Asli presents a canvas that goes beyond the obvious. Through his characters he rattles the viewer as he contrasts humanism (a stranger's helping hand to someone in shock) against capitalist insensitivity (a restaurant owner who only looks at ways to prosper disregarding the lives of his workers). There is an equally disturbing question: are you more afraid of Allah (God) or of the police? The film presents the joy of birth and pathos of death--the final sequence of dead corpse being hauled against a barren, cold, lonely landscape presents a fascinating counter-point to the opening scene of a pregnant woman surrounded by people climbing stairs to talk to her husband through an intermediary. In life and in death, things remain unattainable (ability to talk to her husband versus a dream to provide a better life for the family).

The film is set in Morocco--the film could have been set anywhere. The aura is Muslim and Arab--but the sensibility is universal. There is tragedy, there is comedy. That is the real stuff of life. Thank you, Mr Asli. I look forward to even better films from you and sincerely hope more people see and enjoy this work.

1 comment :

allal-cinemagoer said...

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