Academic journal article Framework

'Hidden, Unsaid, Taboo' in Moroccan Cinema: Abdelkader Lagtaa's Challenge to Authority

Academic journal article Framework

'Hidden, Unsaid, Taboo' in Moroccan Cinema: Abdelkader Lagtaa's Challenge to Authority

Article excerpt

Introduction1

The Moroccan film-maker Abdelkader Lagtaa has been described by some national critics as 'affirming provocation as an artistic principle,' as creating a cinema that is 'disturbing, not comforting'; as we shall see, he describes his own work as 'questioning society, addressing issues . . . that are hidden, unsaid, taboo.'2 What kinds of challenges does Lagtaa pose to Moroccan conventions and what does this tell us about Moroccan filmmaking?

Above and beyond his deliberately confrontational stance, Lagtaa is interesting for several other reasons. His first film, Hobb fi Dar al-Beida/A love affair in Casablanca (Abdelkader Lagtaa, Morocco, 1992) launched what has come to be known as 'the reconciliation' of the Moroccan audience with its national cinema, a period that continues today and is characterized by the commercial distribution of a majority of Moroccan films and their relatively strong showing at the box office. He completed two films in 1998-Bidawa/ Casablancans (Abdelkader Lagtaa, Morocco, 1999) and al-Bab al-Mesdud/The Closed Door (Abdelkader Lagtaa, Morocco, 2000), making him one of only four Moroccan directors to have finished as many as three films in the 1990s. Lagtaa is also interesting in that he, like many of his colleagues, performs the functions of producer, director, and screenwriter; he is distinct from them in the great frequency with which he contributes to various journalistic publications, constituting himself in this way as a 'public intellectual.'

To understand the kinds of challenges Lagtaa's work poses we need, first, to sketch the social, cultural and historical context of Moroccan cinema. Then, after describing Lagtaa's background and summarizing his three films, I will present some discussions I have had with him in which he talks about the role of film-maker, the challenges he raises, and how he views the cinematic domain and his position within it.

I. Context

In the 25 years after it regained independence in 1956, Morocco produced fewer films than the other Maghreb countries (Algeria and Tunisia) that had also been under French colonial rule. Yet, in 1981 the Tunisian film critic Férid Boughedir, soon to become a relatively successful film-maker himself, took Morocco to be the most advanced of these countries 'as far as creating an original Maghrebin cinematic language is concerned.' He characterized Moroccan cinema as 'a cinema of extremes,' with one vein attempting to compete with foreign commercial productions through imitating Egyptian musicals, and another marked by an 'intellectualist' orientation composed of films 'devoted to the search for original forms of artistic expression . . . that distanced themselves from Western film clichés . . . and drew upon the Moroccan collective imaginary.' In Boughedir's view, it was this 'intellectualist' current that had led to Morocco's cinematic advances (Boughedir 1981, 207-209).

The situation changed dramatically in 1980 when public financial aid first became systematically available to Moroccan film-makers, leading to an increase in both the rate and variety of film production.3 However, with the distribution of films during the 1980s dominated by imports and with no state support given for exhibiting Moroccan films, the latter languished and the public was unable to show whether or not it had a taste for them.

In the early 1990s, rather suddenly, Moroccan audiences began to show such a taste. This new trend was launched when Abdelkader Lagtaa's A Love Affair in Casablanca created a stir at the Meknès Film Festival in 1991, attracted the interest of a distributor and was a solid success at the box-office in 1992. Shortly afterwards, in 1993/1994, Ba&than & an zawj imra 'ati/Looking For My Wife's Husband (Muhammad Abderrahman Tazi, Morocco, 1993) was an even greater success, remaining to this day the most widely seen Moroccan film ever. On the heels of these two films the distribution of Moroccan films took a positive turn, production increased, and the public responded with significant support at the box-office. …

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