Female Sexuality, Islam and the Global: Leila Merrakshi's Controversial Film Marock

By Khannous, Touria | CineAction, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Female Sexuality, Islam and the Global: Leila Merrakshi's Controversial Film Marock


Khannous, Touria, CineAction


While new changes in Moroccan women's rights are attributed to the country's new reform-minded king, the late 1990s also saw a turning point for cinema in Morocco. (1) Over this period, an increasing number of feature films were produced in Morocco, opening up possibilities for the presence of women in most aspects of Moroccan cinema. Morocco's liberalization process under King Mohammed VI, whose government began to gradually loosen the political and cultural restrictions imposed on those involved in filmmaking, has guaranteed more freedom of expression for young artists and filmmakers. (2) There has also been an increase in the number of women filmmakers, whose films demonstrate that women in Moroccan society are not silent recipients of dominant discourses, but instead are active in their opposition and in expressing their voices.

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The Moudawana, the new family code that went into effect in 2004, is significantly changing women's situation in Morocco, but not without serious struggle. This is reflected in films which have made a global impact with presentations of a post-colonial society undergoing rapid and controversial changes, such as the institution of new civil laws and the modernization of the family structure within which men are favored, but women are increasingly beginning to represent themselves. Leila Merrakshi is an important example of a Moroccan diasporic filmmaker whose film Marock (3) made in 2005, one year after the new family code went into effect, presents tensions in a gender-driven society. The film director's gender is not incidental to the creation of a film that links her art and her life. In addition to telling an atypical story, Marock reflects a creation that is closely linked to the personal experience of its director. A Moroccan woman who is married to a Jewish film director, her film can be read as a retelling and justification of her own youthful rebellion and choices. Her marriage is illegal under the Moroccan version of Muslim law. Changes in Moroccan law under the present king, however, have extended women's rights in Morocco and proved the compatibility of Islam and modernity with regard to the emancipation of women. The film suggests obvious parallels between the director's personal story and Rita's life after her romance with Yuri. The end of Rita's romance seems to open the way for discovery of self. For Merrakshi, re-defining the country of Morocco also means loss but something gained. The director has to leave Morocco in order to create art about it, and become personally involved with it again. (4)

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Marock, which Merrakshi made in collaboration with a French production company while residing in France, represents a film that not only contains multicultural themes in its narrative, but is also a global production that necessitates the cooperation and coordination of the director and foreign producers. This film, which addresses viewers anywhere who are able to see it, is significant in terms of its popularity, its legitimate success, the controversies it has engendered, and the attempts to have it banned. Marock as a film is analogous to a spatial novel: one does not comprehend anything until one comprehends everything. A second viewing would change one's interpretation of individual scenes. The director uses the camera mostly to show Rita's point of view, but the "fragmented narrative" is also reflected in a variety of points of view. The director's editing techniques suggest there are multiple points of view, for there are implications for adults who deal with the young, and for parents, the young require to be taken seriously.

The film created a stir when it was first shown, and met the anger of conservative critics who criticized what they have called "uncontrolled decadence". What we have seen in the course of the controversy is the struggle for recognition of a female director in the midst of what constitutes a growing trend of commercialized consumption of the female. …

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