Fifteen and Counting
15th Moroccan National Film Festival 2014
We have insurance against accidents, against sickness . . . but none against history. When history strikes us, only the cinema can tell us how it was. [. . . ]
- Unknown person cited by Mohammed Bakrim -
The presence of women in Moroccan film is noteworthy, whether as screenwriters whose subjects seem to me well constructed or in the number of female filmmakers. There are a fair number of women directors, some of whom are very young—like the director who used the Russian dolls [Asmae El Moudir]—and who have a lot of talent.
- Analia Iglesia -
Photo by S. Shafto
I’m recently back “home” in Ouarzazate after attending the Moroccan National Film Festival, marking my fourth FNF. Despite a slight reduction in budget (from 6.5 million MAD – $ 800,000 to 6 million MAD - $ 735,000), the festival was well-attended and did not disappoint. Several films in both the shorts (21 total out of 65 submissions) and features categories (22 total with 13 premiering at the FNF) stood out. With 23 representatives of international festivals on hand, many of these films will soon be seen abroad. This year the festival moved from its usual venue of the capacious Roxy theatre to the more intimate Cinéma Rif aka the Cinémathèque de Tanger (300 seats). Half-an-hour later, alternate screenings were held at the Cinema Paris (400 seats). If occasionally the Cinema Rif seemed ready to burst at the seams, the projections were top notch.
The FNF celebrated its fifteenth edition this year by publishing a commemorative hardback catalogue of its feature films from 1958 – 2013: just under 300 films in 55 years. It’s an impressive figure. Of course, fifteen is neither twenty nor twenty-five: nonetheless, given the initial faltering rhythm of the FNF— whose first edition premiered in 1982 at the initiative of the then director of the Centre Cinématographique Marocain (CCM), Kouider Bennani (1976-1986)—fifteen represents a milestone. Initially, the festival was purposely itinerant, as a way to bolster film culture throughout the Kingdom.  With its 8th edition in 2005, in part because of the dramatic decline in cinema theatres, the festival was transplanted to Tangier, the hometown of Nour-Eddine Saïl who took over the CCM in 2003.  Since 2010, it has become an annual event. In just a decade, Moroccan annual production has soared from approximately five to twenty to twenty-five features. Currently, Morocco ties for first place in film production on the continent with Egypt, adversely affected by the Arab Spring. The goal, according to Saïl, is to reach and maintain 30 films per year. Last year, the CCM accorded 60 million MAD (a little more than 7 million dollars) to its cinema.
The jury for the feature-length films was headed by the Professor and former Minister of National Education, Abdellah Saâf, also responsible for updating the Livre blanc or the official report on Moroccan film. Filmmaker Abdou Achouba presided the shorts’ jury. Astonishingly, this year the Moroccan Critics Association declined, for obscure reasons, to choose a best film among the shorts. This injustice was somewhat righted by the official jury who, in contrast, perceiving an embarrassment of riches in the offerings, added two special mentions, in addition to the regular three prizes (Grand Prix, Special Jury Prize and Best Screenplay.)
The ongoing presence of female filmmakers in this Muslim country continues to engender admiration: this year, 7 shorts and 3 features were directed by women. In the shorts’ category, I was particularly pleased that Mahassine El Hachadi’s film “Postcard,” won the Special Jury Award. Readers of my column may recall that I already wrote enthusiastically about it in reviewing the Marrakech International Film Festival last December.  Mahassine unfortunately was not in Tangier for the screening (she’s currently finishing up her Masters in Toulouse, after having graduated from Morocco’s best film school, l’ESAV Marrakech.) From her producer, Jean-David Lefebvre, I learned that she filmed in an Amazigh village, El Gluiz, a ski resort two hours from Marrakech. Despite its documentary quality, “Postcard” is a fiction film: the performances that the director has elicited from the villagers, particularly the lead child who plays Amina, are superb.
After opening on some spectacular mountain landscapes, “Postcard” introduces us to Amina who is surreptitiously watching her not-much-older sister give birth.
Amina’s family is eager to marry her off as soon as she hits puberty, as is apparently the custom in isolated Amazigh communities. El Hachadi has a gift for filming not just the natural beauty of the Moroccan landscape, but also animals and people. The film is discreet in its intentions: one morning, Amina dawdles in bed, saying she’s got a stomach-ache. This modest clue that she’s had her period is then confirmed by an insect crawling under the bedcovers, attracted by her menstrual bed. Amina tries to hide this development from her mother because she knows only too well what awaits her. The family struggles to make ends meet and Amina unsuccessfully tries to sell meteorological rocks she’s painted to tourists. In the penultimate scene, her brother finds her by the roadside at dusk, looking after a car that has just whizzed by. She was out looking for him, she says, but her wistful gaze off in the distance suggests rather she was contemplating a way out of the village. Unfortunately, the closing long shot of the mountain that mirrors the film’s opening —terrible in its beautiful grandeur—suggests little hope for Amina in this picture-perfect environment.
This year’s Grand Prix for the shorts went to the political film “Réglage” by Driss Gaidi and Hicham Regragui. It marks the first time a Moroccan film treats the highly sensitive topic of the Polisario, the Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement that opposes Moroccan occupation of the Western Sahara.  Set in Tindouf that serves as a Polisario base, the film shows Polisario soldiers torturing a Moroccan civilian for trying to escape. The lead actor, Mustapha Rachidi, is remembered locally for having performed in Babel (2006). The best Screenplay was awarded to Hicham Elladdaqi, graduate both of l’ESAV Marrakech and the Screenplay workshop, Méditalents, for his film “La Troisième Main.” It’s the story of a young woman whose dreams of continuing her education are cut short by the economic distress of her family. She is forced to take a job in the local rug factory.
While in Tangier, I had the opportunity to catch up with my Spanish friend Oliver Laxe and now neighbor in Ouarzazate. Oliver’s 2011 film,You are All Captains, shot in Tangier, won accolades in the New York Times.  While waiting to shoot his second feature, focusing on Sufism in Morocco, Oliver is working for Moroccan television, taking part as a director of a series of ten portraits of Moroccan women. A historian from the Moroccan, historical journal Zamane is acting as an advisor to the series that is being produced by Nabil Ayouch’s company, Ali n’ Productions. Laxe plans to shoot his segment not on a female warrior like Aïcha Kandicha or Zaynab, the 11th century Almoravid queen who is the subject of Farida Bourquia’s new film, also included in the FNF (Zaynab, la rose d’Aghmat). Laxe intends instead to focus on a woman with entirely different attributes, like a mystic or a saint.
The festival paid homage this year to, among others, the actor Hamidou (1935-2013) and Larbi Yaâcoubi, the well-known Tangier costume designer and actor who is gravely ill. Filmmaker Jilali Ferhati dedicated the screening of his new film Secrets d’oreiller (Pillow Talk), to the costume and set designer Naïma Saoudi Bouanani who sadly died while working on his film. (Secrets d’oreiller recalls in flashback a girl’s childhood in a maison close in Tetouan. An adaption of the eponymous novel by Bachir Damoun, Secrets d’oreiller won for Best screenplay and for Best cinematography by Kamal Derkaoui). In Casablanca recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with Touda Bouanani who has just opened a special exhibition at the Galerie Fatma Jellal showcasing the intersections between her work as a video artist and that of her father, Ahmed Bouanani.
Self-portrait with Naïma by Ahmed Bouanani, Courtesy Touda Bouanani
Touda’s father was an early, seminal contributor to the development of Morocco’s national cinema. It’s worth remembering that his first and only feature, Assarab/Mirage (1980), won no less than four prizes at the FNF’s first edition in Rabat in 1982: Best dialogue, Best decors (by his wife Naima), Best Male Actor and the Critics Prize. Hopefully, filmmaker Ali Essafi will soon finish his much anticipated documentary on Bouanani.
Although his film corpus is small (a handful of shorts and one feature), he nonetheless cast a long shadow on Moroccan film, most directly on Daoud Aoulad-Syad with whom he regularly collaborated. This year, Bouanani’s influence could also be discerned in Asmae El Moudir’s film. “Mémoires anachroniques ou le couscous de vendredi midi” (“Thank God it’s Friday”) opens on archival images from the 1930s of Moroccan women dancing while on the soundtrack we hear a popular song also heard in Bouanani’s El Assarab/Mirage. (Asmae participated in the Bouanani workshops organized in November 2012 by Léa Morin at the Cinémathèque de Tanger that I attended.)
Despite her young age, El Moudir is no newcomer to the FNF: Her 2010 short “La dernière balle” marked the first time that the FNF included student films in the competition. Last year, she returned with a second short, “Les Couleurs du silence.”
In a mere fifteen minutes, her new film, “Mémoires anachroniques, succeeds in narrating her coming-of-age film, told against the moving story of her Uncle Merzouk. In the 1960s after studying in the U.S.S.R., Merzouk became a fervent Stalinist. From the voice-over, we learn that Asmae’s birth year coincided with the fall of the Berlin wall. An ambitious film that the filmmaker made during her residency at La fémis’ prestigious summer school program (to which she applied four times before finally being accepted!), “Mémoires anachroniques” holds real promise for her future. 
Her story is captivating and her mise-en-scène ludic. To narrate her tale, she ingeniously deploys Russian dolls around a table: “so much easier on the budget than real-live actors,” as she later confided to me. The film’s title is apt: “anachronic souvenirs” because the narrative jumps around in time. I can’t wait to see the feature-length version of this film that El Moudir is currently developing, with the support of Hicham Falah of the FIDADOC festival in Agadir. (Did Uncle Merzouk maintain, I wonder, his ardent Stalinism up until the end? . . . )
This year’s FNF justly celebrated the country’s rich cultural, plural identities. Nour-Eddine Saïl noted that:
The geo-linguistic diversity of the films is fantastic, with films in Tarifit [Rifain Amazigh], Tachalhit [Marrakechi Amazigh], Hassiniyia and in Arabic dialect, mixed with French as is heard in the big cities. More and more, the Moroccan reality is conveyed via its linguistic form and that’s as it should be. 
For the first time, a feature in Hassaniya  — Ahmed Baidou’s Aria Delma— was included. Amazigh cinema was also present with four films, one of which, Tawnza, was directed by another young woman, Malika El Manoug.
Her feature tells the story of a young man who returns to his village to find a wife. There he falls under the spell of a woman traditionally dressed, completely covered except for her eyes. Bewitched, he tells his mother and sister he wants to marry her but they trick him into marrying the sister of his sister’s fiancé. When he realizes their lie, he repudiates his wife. He then finds his beloved and they settle in Agadir where the story then moves.
Ostracized by the village community, his sister—unbeknownst to him—also moves to Agadir where her life unfolds as a fairytale. Taken in by a well-known singer, she herself later becomes a renowned songstress. Her brother, meanwhile, is laid low by an illness. The storyline charts the siblings’ vicissitudes of fortune. In Western Art from antiquity to the Renaissance, the wheel of fortune was a popular iconographic motif. As Westerners gained control of more parts of their lives, the theme receded in importance. But the wheel of fortune may become popular in the west again, if the current economic crisis deepens.
According to a Moroccan proverb, coincidence is better than any rendezvous. Like many Moroccan screenplays, Tawnza’s plot relies heavily on coincidences (That said, the use of coincidence is obviously an old narrative trick. In recently viewing the Oscar nominatedPhilomena, I was flabbergasted when we’re told the investigating journalist actually met the subject of his inquiry, Philomena’s long lost son. . . . That encounter felt a little too contrived and indeed, it turns out the two never met.  This coincidence feels gratuitous and merely underscores, for this viewer, Philomena’s treacly and Manichaean simplism.)
If Tawnza strikes a Western viewer as naïve, it nonetheless has many merits. As a first film (made sans CCM funding and sansremuneration for its actors), it bodes well for the ongoing development of the young Amazigh cinema. In particular, Manoug’s way of filming life in the Amazigh village lends it a certain nobility. And I liked the actors, particularly the male lead Brahim Assi, a veteran of the strong VCD market for Amazigh films, with already eleven titles to his credit.
Another film requiring our active suspension of belief was Saïd Naciri’s Sara, which stars the filmmaker. It’s the story of a father and his adopted daughter, Sara, living off of their landlady until the day when the 10-year-old Sara, a tomboy and soccer fanatic, tells her she should do some sports to lose some weight! Sara’s lack of diplomacy lands the duo back on the streets of Agadir. This odd couple quickly work out a survival strategy for conning people. After Abbas is hit twice by a wealthy businesswoman whose own daughter died in a car accident, the father-daughter are invited to her apartment for his convalescence. The screenplay includes the businesswoman’s partner and fiancé who has no problem with being on the take. The ending is predictable, if incredible: the corrupt boyfriend is shunted aside and Abbas and the businesswoman end up marrying. The origins of broad comedies like this are close to that of the French Boulevard theatre of the 19th century, best represented by Georges Feydeaux and Eugène Labiche. With a better screenplay, Naciri could be the auteur of a Moroccan comedy that succeeds well beyond the national borders.
Sara works largely because of Saïd Naciri, a charismatic and immensely popular actor here. As one festival-goer remarked “Moroccans are born actors,” and I’d have to agree. This year’s winner of the Grand Prix, Kamal Kamal’s Sotto voce is built on the considerable attraction of its extensive cast of Moroccan stars with Amal Ayouch, Mohamed Bastaoui, Mohamed Chouibi, Mohamed Khouyi. In granting the film the Grand prix, the jury was—for once—in synch with the festival audience who gave the film a standing ovation. After an onerous three-year shoot out of doors and in the winter, the director, actors and crew must have found recompense in the award.
Told in flashback, Sotto voce recounts a little-known chapter in the Algerian War. A group of Algerians, after one of them has killed a French commanding officer, try fleeing to Morocco. At the time, the French Minister of the Interior, André Morice, constructed an electric barbwire fence along the Algero-Moroccan border. Littering the area with mines, the French had it under close surveillance.  Helping the fugitives negotiate this difficult terrain is Moussa, a Moroccan sympathisant to the Algerian cause. Not content with the traditional escape narrative, the filmmaker adds a surrealist touch: some of the fugitives are a group of mute patients who are brought to vocalization by chanting during the trip.
Sotto voce contributes to the growing corpus of films on the Algerian War. (One of my recent favorites in this genre is Florent Emilio Siri’s 2007 L’Ennemi intime, a big budget war film shot in Beni Mellal, Morocco. ) For the first time, we have a narrative on the Algerian War from the Moroccan perspective. Kamal Kamal’s novel point of view is in fact inspired by his mother. An Algerian, she was a revolutionary soldier during the war. Sentenced to death in absentia, she fled from Tlemcen, Algeria to Oujda, Morocco. For the film the Moroccan actors learned the Algerian dialect.
In describing contemporary Moroccan cinema as “avant gardiste,” Nour-Eddine Saïl was surely referring to Kamal Kamal’s new film. Sotto voce’s form is ambitious and could be described as Baroque: the surrealist escape narrative is punctuated with scenes from an opera, written by the filmmaker, a well-respected musician whose first feature was entitled La symphonie marocaine. The opera scenes in Sotto voce, it should be noted, serve not as a mise-en-abyme, but as a foil to the main story.
Despite the fact that the film picked up two additional awards for best original sound-track and best sound, Sotto voce would have enormously benefitted, for this viewer at least, from less music on the sound-track. A surfeit of sound both blinds and deafens us, making it impossible to either see or hear properly. In addition, the actor in the opera scenes (Younes Megri) is poorly dubbed.
Another film that merits mention in the feature-length category is Hassan Legzouli’s Le Veau d’or (The Golden Calf), a Moroccan Western. The director here pays tribute to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns of his youth. It’s the story of two Franco-Moroccans one of whom, Sami, is forced to “return to the family bled” for getting into trouble. At 17, Sami, however, has but one desire: to obtain French nationality on his 18th birthday and to reunite with his girlfriend. Together with his cousin Azdade, an out-of-work university graduate, the two decide to steal a rare breed of cow, owned by the king’s family. Once they sell it, so they think, they’ll have a enough money to finance their return passage to France. Le Veau d’or treats with humor the search for identity of a young generation who feel distinctly more French than Moroccan.
There were a couple of other films by Franco-Moroccans focusing on life in France. My sense is that these films depicting the Moroccan diaspora rarely pick up awards at the FNF. There’s an underlying feeling that they are not Moroccan or not sufficiently Moroccan. One of my students gave voice to this sentiment a couple of years ago when he grilled Ismaïl Ferroukhi about the Moroccanness of his new film, Les Hommes libres (2011).  Of course had my student dug a little deeper, he would have realized that the subject was indeed germane to his country.
In this category, there were two meritorious films. First, the short “Pour ton bien” by the actress Ibtissem Guerda. Set in a suburban housing project (Mantes-La-Jolie), it’s the story of 12-year-old Brahim who plays hooky, forges his mother’s signature and mocks his teachers, all while remaining popular with his classmates. When his dad learns of his shenanigans, he decides to teach Brahim a lesson. . . Well filmed, “Pour ton bien” is, with its bright colors, a breath of fresh air in the usual way of depicting the Paris banlieue. Brahim may go to school in a trouble zone, but there’s nothing miserabilist about him or his environment.
Hicham Ayouch with actors Didier Michon and Slimane Dazi
Hicham Ayouch’s powerful Fièvres is similarly set in a housing estate where the ambiance is the polar opposite from “Pour ton bien.”Fièvres describes a father’s difficult reunion with a son he didn’t know he had. The boy, Benjamin, initially rejects his progenitor who seems permanently depressed, living with his own parents in a bleak, nondescript high-rise. The kid becomes a gifted graffiti artist (his tag name is “Antik”) and proudly declares he’s “100% bastard.” If I don’t agree with the film’s ending, Fièvres nevertheless poses probing questions on paternity and masculinity (Benjamin taunts his father by declaring: “T’es pas un homme.”). With its three generations of males, it’s a modern-day version of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1948). The two leads are excellent and were recognized at the Marrakech Film Festival.
It was a pleasure to watch again Hamid Zoughi’s film Boulanoir that I wrote about in my review of the Khouribga African Film Festival last year.  Attempts by Moroccan filmmakers to narrate chapters in their national narrative are particularly engaging and noteworthy. In Boulanoir, it’s the story of the establishment of no less than the first workers’ union not just in Morocco, but on the African continent. The French colonizers however strictly forbad all union activities, seen as encouraging the Moroccan movement for independence.
Hamid Zoughi during his press conference. Photo by S. Shafto
For his Moroccan Germinal, the director purposely avoided known actors, choosing instead theatrical actors from Khouribga, conversant with the mining history in their native region. Zoughi describes the difficult conditions of the shoot:
We had to reconstruct the mines with our own means, since we weren’t allowed to film in the real mines for security reasons. They’re abandoned and even the beams are damaged. [. . . ] So we dug our own mines and constructed the rest of the decors. But this wasn’t factored into the film’s original budget, so the film’s overall cost rose considerably. 
Boulanoir is an adaptation of a much acclaimed, eponymous book by Dr. Othman Achekra, unfortunately not yet translated into either French or English. Here’s one of my former students, Karima Boucheboun who is herself currently preparing a documentary about a mining community (in development with the FIDADOC), asking the director a question during the q and a.
Photo by S. Shafto
Also in this historical category is Mohamed Amin Benamraouri’s partially autobiographical Adios Carmen, a real treat that won this year for Best First Film. A co-production between Morocco, Belgium and the United Emirates, the film, in Rifain Amazigh with a little Spanish, tells the story of a young boy, Amar, living with his mother in the Rif in the mid-1970s. The film reminds us of the importance of the Spanish presence in this part of the kingdom.
Adios Carmen was shot in and around Assilah, characterized like the architecture in much of northern Moroccan by its blue and white houses. Amar’s father has just died and his mother is forced to re-marry a Moroccan who has immigrated to Belgium. Initially, the mother must entrust her son to her brother as she reluctantly leaves to join her new husband in Brussels. Uncle Hamid, the town alcoholic and a thug, is at best indifferent and at worst antagonist towards the boy. Amar finds solace in the local cinema, where the Spanish ticket taker, Carmen, offers him free entry. In the darkness of the theatre, the movies open up a new world of escape and fantasy for the young boy who becomes enamored with Bollywood musicals of which we see five excerpts, including Raj Kapoor’s Bobby (1973). In the q and a the next morning, the filmmaker emphasized the important role played by Indian cinema during the Leaden Years as a much-needed outlet and a source of hope.
Cinema Rif, Martil. Photo by S. Shafto
After the death of General Franco, the barely latent anti-Spanish feeling in the town explodes and Carmen and her brother realize it’s time to leave. Adios Carmen is an admirable first film that captures the mounting tensions between the Spanish and Moroccans in the 1970s over the Sahara question. The film cites at length the famous Green March, shown in several clips from Moroccan newsreels: on November 6, 1975, 350,000 Moroccans converged on the town of Tarfaya, waiting for a signal from Hassan II to pass into the Western Sahara. Amanallah Benjilali, whom the director found after a year of casting and who plays Amar is exceptional, while the actor playing Uncle Hamid (Said Marssi) rightly won for Best Supporting actor. Recounting the birth of the filmmaker’s own vocation, Adios Carmen is no less interested in the fate of its three female characters: Zahia Amar’s mother, Carmen, and Hamid’s girlfriend, Ferida. Benamraouri observes:
Following Franco’s death in 1975, there was a transition towards democracy in Spain. . . . while here in Morocco, the situation remained difficult. And between the generations, there was a certain transmission of violence. What matters most to me in this film is the fate of the three women and the violence of the men towards them in a specific geopolitical context. 
Another film with historical overtones is Hicham Lasri’s new film, C’est eux les chiens, shot on a shoestring without a CCM subsidy. As in his earlier film The End, Lasri tackles the topic of the Leaden Years under Hassan II, this time conjugated with the contemporary Arab spring. The screenplay is original and the film rightly won a special award from the Critics Association. To his critics who deplore his unorthodox camerawork and low production values, Lasri responds:
The film narrates, in extremis, the current situation in Morocco, in Casablanca. From the beginning, the idea was to play with cinema’s codes, to manhandle them a bit. There’s always the tendency to want to make “pleasant” or polite films. But here, the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to being well-behaved. If you’re going to tell the rage of a people, of nations, you have to be as aggressive and transgressive as the subject itself! 
Opening during the demonstration of February 20, 2011, the film follows a television crew in the streets of Casablanca during a protest. The journalist notices an odd man whom he thinks is one of his former school teachers. The man in question has just been freed from prison. Imprisoned during the riots against the rise in essential food prices in June 1981, he served a thirty-year sentence. He doesn’t even remember his name, because of the electro-shocks he underwent. All he knows is his prison number, 404, tattooed on his arm. Dressed in a red shirt and a green and red plaid blazer, he carries with him a red bicycle training-wheel. The day he was picked up by the police, he had gone out to buy a training wheel for his son. The television crew abandon their original story to follow this revenant as he tries to locate his family.
Opening to acclaim in France, C’est eux les chiens, broaches tough questions on contemporary Morocco. On the radio, at one point, we hear the oft-heard refrain about Morocco’s exceptionalism in the current Arab world. Lasri, however, who is 36 and grew up under the reign of Hassan II, remains dubious: “not much, “ he claims, “has changed since then.”  Coincidentally, the film also usefully offers a reflection on the status quo in surrounding Arab states, as we hear news bites from Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Egypt. Hassan Badida, moving in the lead role, repeated his earlier success in Dubai by winning for Best Male Actor.
Abdellatif Taïa at the Libraire des Colonnes. Photo by S. Shafto
One of the highlights of this year’s FNF was the side-event at the Librairie des Colonnes, a reading and screening by the Moroccan author Abdellatif Taïa. He screened for us his home-movie, “Petit voyage sur la tombe de Jean Genet,” shot in the nearby town of Larache where the French writer is buried. Taïa quoted Juan Goytisolo who described Genet as a Sufi, who needed to do bad things to hide his goodness. In addition, Taïa also spoke at length about the importance of television in his childhood. Every evening from 5:30 p.m, the family would convene around the television set. For Mohamed Amin Benamraoui, it was Indian cinema that made the difference, while for Taïa it was Egyptian cinema. In his youth, Taïa told us, he “adored Soad Hosny (1943-2001),” nicknamed the Cinderella of Egyptian film whom he followed in a T.V. series.
Premiering at the festivals of Venice and Toronto, L’Armée du salut marks Taïa’s directorial debut. In 2014, he told me, it will be screened at MoMA and Lincoln Center. An adaptation of his eponymous novel (Eds. du Seuil, 2006), it’s a bildungsroman of a young Moroccan who also happens to be gay. Unfortunately, I saw the film at the Paris Cinema, where the out-of-focus screening did an injustice to Agnès Godard’s camerawork. Still, I like Taïa’s/Godard’s head-to-toe framings and his penchant for understatement. One quibble: having just finished reading the novel, after seeing the film, I think that the final scene with his older Swiss lover was more powerful in the book. Running into his former lover soon after his arrival in Geneva, he runs away from him with the startling but memorable line: “Not now! It’s either too soon or too late!” The film, on the other hand, collapses several encounters into one and feels all wrong.
L’Armée du salut has been rightly heralded as a first in Arab cinema film: for the first time a Muslim protagonist openly declares his homosexuality. But if the film is eminently brave in its honest depiction of the author’s sexuality, it strikes this viewer as more than just a Moroccan coming out: it’s universal in its depiction of a young man poised on the brink between where he’s come from (the author grew up in the popular city of Salé) and where he wants to go. Taïa recalls:
[In my youth] I was enraged by the French language, which is perceived in Morocco as being chic and bourgeois. My poverty conditioned me, since I had accepted this label that had been given to me. I was poor and acted as such. Today, I’m able to analyze my situation, but at 17 I couldn’t. Nevertheless, I had an intuition that I was going to appropriate ‘their French,’ that I would do something with it that resembled me. I began keeping a diary, not in an intellectual way but rather naively, where I simply wrote how I felt, what I wanted to express. I acted as I already was, but I wasn’t. I think that this action of giving myself a legitimacy vis à vis the world, the family, power, language, domination, and my homosexuality, which I denied socially all the while knowing deep down I was gay. That’s what pushed me to put down on paper my dreams: they are the wellspring for my work. Writing for me is neither a hobby or a passion. It’s more of a need. 
In his closing press conference, Nour-Eddine Saïl offered his annual overview of Moroccan film: in 2013, the country’s films participated in 143 international film festivals in 71 different countries, winning fifty-five prizes. This year, 27 films are predicted to be produced, and if that figure holds, he told us, inevitably the CCM will be faced with the decision to make a selection of 14 – 15 films, possibly presenting the others in a separate Panorama.
The role of the FNF, much like that of the Marrakech International Film Festival, Saïl added, is to serve as a showcase for Moroccan cinema to foster national pride and to attract foreign interest.  Looking back at the FNF’s history, there can be no doubt that the festival has succeeded its wager. Looking forward, 2014 looks to be a promising year for Moroccan cinema both at home and abroad. There will be a week’s tribute to it in Beijing, while in Paris a special homage to Moroccan cinema will be included in the major retrospective of Moroccan art to open at I’Institut du Monde Arabe in September. Fifteen and counting. . . .
Since her arrival in Morocco in 2010, Sally Shafto has been regularly covering Moroccan and Maghrebin film. She is the author of theZanzibar Films and the Dandies of May 1968 (2007) and numerous articles on the French New Wave. She teaches at the Faculté Polydisciplinaire de Ouarzazate.
For more information on this year’s FNF, please consult its website: HTTP://WWW.CCM.MA/FNF15/
 Mohammed Bakrim quoting an unnamed person, in “Voix off: La Boîte noire,” Le Journal du Festival national du film, no. 3, Monday, 10 February 2014: p. 2.
 Analia Iglesia, “La présence de la femme dans le cinéma marocain est remarquable,” Le Journal du Festival national du film, no. 4, Tuesday, 11 February 2014: p. 1. My translation.
 Ahmed Araïb, “Ciné Script, La fête du cinéma marocain,” L’Opinion, 25 – 26 January 2014.
Moroccan theatre owner Hassan Belkady notes that in 1980, there were 280 cinemas in the country; in 2014, less than 40. Mae Ait Bayahya, “Où en est le cnéma marocain,” Le Matin, 12 February 2014.
 Sally Shafto, “Marrakech Mon Amour: Review of the 13th Annual Marrakech International Film Festival,” Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, January 2014: http://www.frameworkonline.com/festivals/FIFM2014/FIFM2014.html.
 See Polisario entry in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polisario_Front
 Dennis Lim, “Give Young Boys in Morocco a Camera. . . ,” New York Times, 14 October 2011: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/16/movies/oliver-laxes-morocco-film-you-all-are-captains.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
 See Asmae’s interview with the journalist Fouzia Marouf: “Paroles de poupées russes d’Asmae El Moudir:HTTP://WWW.ILLIONWEB.COM/PAROLES-DE-POUPEES-RUSSES-DASMAE-EL-MOUDIR/
 Nour-Eddine Saïl quoted in the newspaper, Al Bayane, February 2014. Exact date unknown. My translation.
 Hassaniya is a variety of Arabic, originally spoken by Bedouin tribes who ruled over Mauritania and the Western Sahara between the 15th and 17th centuries. It is distinct from other Western variants of Arabic. See the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hassaniya_Arabic
 Martin Sixsmith, “The Catholic Church Sold my Child,” The Guardian, 19 September 2009: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/sep/19/catholic-church-sold-child#start-of-comments
 See: “L’ALN face aux lignes Challe et Morice,”: http://algerie.eklablog.fr/l-aln-face-aux-lignes-challe-et-morice-a66451361
 See my article: “La Trahison et L’Ennemi intime: vers un nouveau regard sur la Guerre d’Algérie,” Migrance, no. 37 (Fall 2011), “Images et représentations des Maghrébins dans le cinéma en France”: 57- 64.
 Sally Shafto, “On Moroccan Identity: The 14th Festival national du film de Tanger,” Senses of Cinema: http://sensesofcinema.com/2013/festival-reports/on-moroccan-identity-the-14th-festival-national-du-film/
 Sally Shafto, “`It’s Not Just About the Money’: The 16th Festival du Cinéma Africain de Khouribga,” Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, August 2013: http://www.frameworkonline.com/festivals/FestivalKhouribga2013/FestivalKhouribga2013.html
 Y.C., “Interview with Hamid Zoughi,” Le Journal du Festival national du film, no. 3, 10 February 2014: p. 2.
 Y.C., “C’est Carmen qui m’a fait découvrir le cinéma,” “Le Journal du Festival National du Film,” no. 6, 13 February 2014: p. 1. My translation.
 Siegfried Forster, “Hicham Lasri: ‘Rien n’a changé au Maroc,’” France – RFI, 5 February 2014: http://www.rfi.fr/afrique/20140206-hicham-lasri-cest-eux-les-chiens-maroc-cin%C3%A9ma/ My translation.
 Renaud de Rochebrune, “Au cœur de la révolte,” Jeune Afrique, No. 2769, 2 – 8 February 2014.
 Abdellah Taïa, “Abdellah Taïa bouscule les tabous,” Les Echos Week-End, 14 February 2014. My translation.
 Ouafaâ Bennani, “Entretien avec Noureddine Saïl, directeur general du CCM et président du FNF,” Le Matin, 19 February 2014.