Saturday, July 21, 2018

Nabil Ayouch's RAZZIA: a Moroccan apocalypse of great beauty and even greater sadness


Moving from the Atlas mountains of Morocco in 1982 to the city of Casablanca in 2015, RAZZIA begins with the art of  teaching via a fine, smart teacher and his class of students that includes one boy who has a bad stutter and with whose mom our instructor is romantically involved. When we cut to Casablanca, we see a march of fundamentalist Muslims, a beautiful woman (pictured above) dressed in far too Western a style to please those fundamentalists, and a dead bird on the beach that must be properly buried.

The filmmaker here is a fellow named Nabil Ayouch, whose earlier and quite wonderful movie, Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets, TrustMovies covered  back when he was writing for the late, lamented Greencine Daily. That film dealt with a band of Arab street boys and what happens when one of their number is killed. With Razzia, Ayouch has opened his canvas much more broadly, as his film moves back and forth between mountain and city over 33 years and includes a huge cast and a number of important characters that share the spotlight. Some of the people we see in both time frames, others are shown only in recent times. All are brought to life with immediacy and specificity.

Initially I imagined Razzia was the name of one of the characters here. But, no. Instead, a little research brought up this following definition, which fits the movie's themes quite handily: a hostile raid for purposes of conquest, plunder, and capture of slaves, especially one carried out by Moors in North Africa. While there is no actual "raid," in Razzia, the movie views Muslim fundamentalism as pretty much the same thing.

In the 1982 Atlas mountains sequence, a teacher (Amine Ennaji, above) is silenced and must leave his teaching post because of "reforms" that force religion into everything, destroy scientific learning, and insist that the students study in Arabic -- a language they do not even understand, as they are Berber.

In the Casablanca of 2015, we pick up the life of  that classroom stutterer, now a middle-aged man (Abdellah Dedane, above, right) who works for a Jewish restaurateur (Arieh Worthalter, above, left, and below) in the bustling city.

Our heroine, Salima (Maryam Touzani, below) seems to be in a sort of relationship with an attractive guy, but like so many Arab men he, too, appears to be, if somewhat unknowingly, misogynistic.

Finally we have a young man (played with mounting fire and anger by Abdelilah Rachid, below) who's part of a local rock band and who worships at the altar of Freddie Mercury. Is he also gay, as was Mercury? The subject is almost raised, but we never really know, and perhaps this is one Muslim taboo too many for the filmmaker to engage.

All these characters move and interest us as they wander about Ayouch's vast canvas (the screenplay comes via him and Ms Touzani), with some of them connecting to the others in particularly strong fashion. The many shiftings from past to present are never confusing, and little by little we learn enough about the various characters that they begin to matter more and more.

The movie ends with a double dose of violence -- at a party and in the streets -- that makes it seem as though some kind of Moroccan apocalypse has occurred, followed by a few moments of peace at the beach. All this proves a stunning resolution to a film, the ambitions of which are great and the execution of which is perhaps even greater.

Though lauded at various international film festivals and chosen as the opening night selection at the New York Jewish Film Festival, Razzia never managed to procure a theatrical release here in the USA. So let's be grateful to First Run Features for making its DVD debut possible. The film -- running 109 minutes -- hits the street this coming Tuesday, July 24 -- for purchase and/or rental.

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