Five Separate Narratives That Collide Into One
Director Nabil Ayouch in “Razzia” brings a potent and fascinating mosaic of a film about dreams, and the trials and struggles of everyday life in Morocco. The film opens with the Berber proverb, “Happy is he who can act according to his desires.” This can be interpreted as a perfect synthesis of the intentions of a filmmaker with a prodigious sensitivity to human nature. Five different stories span two time periods to show the unsettling and potentially explosive frustration experienced by those trying to make their own paths in a conservative society.
“Razzia” begins in 1982 in the Atlas mountains, in a tiny village where much-loved teacher Abdallah (Amine Ennaji) must obey the directives of the state and stop teaching in Berber, the only language that his pupils understand. Soon, defeated Abdallah leaves this place, and with it his romance with the widow Yto (Nezha Tebbaï). We then move forward to Casablanca in 2015 where the beautiful Salima (Maryam Touzani, who co-wrote the script alongside Ayouch), is dressed immodestly as she takes a dip in the ocean after running into a protest against the reform of inheritance laws. The demonstrators carried signs declaring “Sharia rules” or “men and women are not the same”. It is here that we see everyday scene with its deep contradictions.
While Salima might appear to be an independent woman, her husband is firmly established in the modernity that befits economic privilege. Salima is torn over whether or not to have an abortion, and seeks the advice of Yto (now played by Saâdia Ladib), whose house she goes to dance accompanied by Elyas, her son. Elyas (Abdellah Didane) works as a bartender for Joe (Arieh Worhalter), a Jew living an outwardly quiet life, soothed by his memories of the classic film “Casablanca” but he is realizing that his existence is becoming ever more circumscribed, particularly in matters of love, by religious barriers.
Hakim (Abdelilah Rachid), on the other hand, faces different obstacles. His family and neighbors in the city’s working-class Medina district stand in the way of his dreams of becoming a rock star like Freddie Mercury. Meanwhile, the charmed life of well-off teenager Inès (Dounia Binebine) hides a profound loneliness, as she faces the confusion of growing up in an environment where TV images collide with the country’s traditions. All of these cases of individual psychological tension feed into a latent sense of rising pressure, while disturbances break out across the city in the middle of the night.
We see contemporary Morocco and the hubbub of Casablanca as both stinging and affectionate and in need of a reawakening, for perseverance and for renewal and a warning against the dangers posed by escalating conflict and contradiction.
Director Ayouch does an excellent job of immediately luring the viewer into the dense narrative, and it’s clear, too, that his initial emphasis on the timelines perpetuates the promising atmosphere with the scenes involving an ’80s school teacher standing as an early highlight. There are a few ongoing highlights throughout the running time that include a recurring subplot involving a gay aspiring musician with a Queen obsession. However, there are too many rushed storylines does not work as smoothly as it should.