Saturday, February 22, 2014

A short set in Morocco by way of Canada: Najat Jellab's classy/condensed THE PROJECTIONIST

TrustMovies doesn't usually cover short films (there are so many full-length features he can't even begin to get around to), but an email from Najat Jellab, the French-Canadian producer/director and co-writer (with Rachid Zaki) of THE PROJECTIONIST -- a 20-minute movie currently hitting the American and international festival circuits (it has already the Best Short prize at the 2013 Harlem International Film Festival) -- made him interested enough to want to view it. Set in a Morocco at once so ancient and so modern (the language that comes out of a certain woman's mouth!), the film introduces us to a couple of subsidiary characters first, before giving us a look at our hero -- the projectionist of the title -- and maybe our heroine. There's a beautifully animated credit sequence on view, too.

Ms Jellab, shown at right, has made a lovely little piece, the major trouble with which is: once it's over, you'll want more. That was my feeling, at least, but also the first thought out of the mouth of the Moroccan woman (also named Najat) who takes care of my spouse's mom on weekends and to whom I showed this film. "I wish it were longer," she immediately noted, once the end credits had rolled. Jellab's film is so full of movie love (and pain) -- from Liz Taylor to a fantasy of remembered movie moments -- that it's easy to see why festivals and their audiences would embrace it so thorough-ly. It is also beautifully photographed and edited, with exceptional sound design.

The look we get at Morocco today is both interesting and surprising -- at least to a westerner like me. I found the young woman (played by Fadwa Taleb, above, center) who sets up her performance troupe in the square to be really quite something: as ballsy as she is beautiful. If she is at all reflective of Morocco these days (and not just a fantasy of what an empowered woman there might be), then I am further impressed.

Our hero, whom we see as a grown young man (above) and as a boy (below) getting his tantalizing taste of cinema, is nicely played as an adult by Aniss Elkohen with a kind of sad reticence. The landlord of the apartment house (Abdellah Ferkous) in which our projectionist lives is a funny, charming character, while the theater owner Youssef Ait Mansour) -- who must, thanks to the economy, close his old movie palace -- is a sad one.  The film's themes take in everything from movies to the economy, gentrification, piracy, and somehow "making do."

Jellab gets good performances from her actors -- all of them -- who pull us into their characters and situations so that we maintain interest and want to know more. But there is no more. That's my only quibble, but it's one that arises with many of the short films I see. They work as calling cards for the filmmakers but leave the audience in a kind of limbo. Will Ms Jellab take her story on to full-length proportions or move to another subject entirely? We shall see. In either case, I'll look forward to the result.

Where can you view The Projectionist?  Currently, it's being shown at three film festivals:
The Richmond International Film Festival:  this coming Thursday, Feb. 27th, at 8:45 pm at the Byrd Theater, 2908 W Cary St Richmond, VA.
Rendez-vous du cinema québecois: Saturday, March 1st, at 5:15 pm at the Cinematheque Quebecoise 335, De Maisonneuve Blvd East Montréal, Quebec.
Luxor African Film Festival in Egypt, March 16-24, 2014. When we get more details on the date and time of the screening, we'll post that information here.

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