“We haven’t even started and already disillusion has set in.”
The film Raja explores colonialism through the relationship between a middle-aged, bored, jaded, wealthy Frenchman living in Morocco and a young orphaned girl he employs. When Raja (Najat Benssallem) appears to work in the gardens of the Frenchman Fred (Pascal Greggory), he immediately singles her out for attention. She’s by no means the prettiest girl of the bunch, but he’s inexplicably drawn to her–much to the horror of the older, disapproving and threatened servants he employs in the kitchen. There are huge gaps in education, age and status between Fred and Raja–but Fred, who’s “trying to revitalize” his “desire,” baldly tells Raja, “You realize that I’ll do anything to sleep with you,” and he thinks he means it.
In addition to the social inequalities between Fred and Raja, there also exists a substantial language barrier. Raja, who was forced into prostitution as a child, knows a few, elemental French words–including ‘money’ and ‘gift’, but both Fred and Raja rely on others to translate their tortured negotiations. Raja’s feelings of rage, and vulnerability are transparent, but Fred as an ultimate exploiter who refuses to acknowledge the moral consequences of his actions receives only heavily filtered translations that mirror his own blunted and jaded emotions. In one marvelous scene, Raja attempts to convey her feelings of vulnerability by explaining that as an orphan, she has no one to protect her, but Fred pretentiously replies: “we are all orphans.”
In spite of the fact that Fred is a repulsive character, Raja from director Jacques Doillon is an amazing film. While the relationship between Raja and Fred symbolizes the inherent moral difficulties of colonialism, these characters are fully developed. Both are products of their social milieu, and Fred’s vanity is insufferably overpowering–not only does he imagine all the young Moroccan girls fancy him, but his ego and narrow vision fail to grant him the insight into another’s plight. As the one in the vastly superior social position (i.e. the one with the money) he is fated for unhappiness and disappointment–he wants an innocent and despises artifice, and yet seeks artificial emotion and entertainment. In French and Arabic with English subtitles.