Category Archives: Moroccan

Raja (2003)

 “We haven’t even started and already disillusion has set in.”

rajaThe 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.

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Le Grand Voyage (2004)

 “Do you think we’re tourists?”

Reda (Nicolas Cazale) is a Moroccan living in France and attending university when his father (Mohamed Majd) decides that he wants to undertake his Hajj. Reda protests strongly–missing classes will mean that he fails (again). Reda’s older brother was supposed to be the driver for this arduous trip, but since he lost his license, Reda is volunteered for the job. Reda doesn’t understand why they can’t fly to their destination, and he doesn’t look forward to the close confinement with his father. They have little in common any more, and they are strangers to one another.

grand-voyageAs Reda and his father travel to Mecca, they have many misadventures along the way. Reda’s father clearly wants no distractions to his concentration, and very quickly throws away his son’s cell phone. Gradually, their rocky relationship undergoes changes as Reda gains a grudging respect for his father.

Le Grand Voyage is a fairly standard ‘road’ film, and it depicts the journey undertaken often in reluctance that changes the lives of the travelers and their relationships forever. Most of the adversity Reda and his father encounter is predictable. However, the journey in Le Grand Voyage highlights the vast gulf created by the cultural differences between westernized Reda and his traditional Muslim father. One scene depicts Reda whooping it up with an exotic belly dancer he meets in a club, and this act sparks disgust from his father. Reda asks, “Don’t you practice forgiveness in your religion?” The goal of their journey–the gathering of the pilgrims to Mecca is also the culmination of the film, and it’s an event that my western eyes have never observed. Written and directed by Ismael Ferroukhi, the film is in Bulgarian, French, Arabic, Italian, English, and Turkish-with English subtitles.

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Filed under France, Moroccan