Archive for May, 2013

Ali Zaoua: the Moroccan Childhood Reality

May 31, 2013

Ali Zaoua was incredibly touching and powerful in expressing the struggle for young children on the streets of Morocco. It was unsettling to watch Ali being challenged by Dib and the gang of street fighters, and his mom’s lack of means through her own struggle, shows how poverty in Casablanca creates tension for young people who have no way out. Ali himself is killed and while the death is terribly heart-wrenching, even more so are hearing Ali’s dreams to be a sailor, knowing that he would not make it there, and his childhood – stolen. This tension for poor people on the streets of Casablanca awakens viewers to the social concerns and depravity caused by English and American colonization throughout northern Africa, post-World War II. Watching Ali and his friends face gang violence, Kwita attempting to hold a funeral for his friends despite knowledge of religious burial, Omar returning to the gang, and Boubker contemplating suicide before the films end all give way to a serious sense of pain and suffering for these boys in Casablanca. However, the audience gets a unique opportunity to understand life for these young boys as a mesh or reality and fantasy. While reality is harsh and cold for them, mystery and whimsy reassures the boys of their hopes and connections in dark times. Ali’s dream to be a sailor and his surreal confidence inspires his companion Kwita to attempt to bury him “like a King.” This passionate respect the boys share, despite their differences and various struggles, shows how poverty leaves windows and doors for intimate human connection, even when reality itself is much less forgiving. Part of the boy’s escape involves huffing glue to pass time and while there is a tendency to express shock or grief for the boys, it is also apparent that they all appreciate the time they have together, waiting for the world to transform their reality, even though hope seems unlikely. The perseverance and strength of these children reminds audiences that in spite of enduring huge psychological and physical trauma, ultimately relationships often triumph in reconciling friendships and broken children, even in the sad streets of Casablanca where sadly children are just as vulnerable to death, violence, and persecution.

representing the female body in the Wedding Song

May 31, 2013

Watching the film Wedding Song directed by Karin Albou was captivating and entertaining. However, the film also contained elements of sexual fear, moral awakening, and spiritual opposition, as well as a strong sense of feminine identity. In other words, the film exposed more than just an entertaining tale of Tunisian culture: it gave rise to a deeper understanding of subtle cultural difference and the true complexity of life for women in Tunisia. After watching the two young women struggle with the Nazi occupation, one Jewish and the other Muslim, the social tensions of World War II in northern Africa came light. The role women play in the society as well became a central focus of climactic resolve in the film, as the two women struggled to maintain a strong sense of female bonding and identity in a society that desired wholly to drive the two young women apart. The ambition and compassion shown on parts of both the women throughout the film, served to enlighten its audience on the nature of femininity in Middle Eastern culture, and the strength that women ultimately possess as a powerful source of unity and compassion for those around them. This innate sense of relationship that both women share in overcoming racial, political, and religious adversity also helped to reshape my past views of Muslim women in the context of larger society. The confident love shown throughout the film, particularly by the Muslim girl but also by her Jewish friend, reinforces a woman’s ability to overcome feminine oppression through relationship. For both women, their bodies are a target for the social and cultural tension of the times, and neither are afraid to represent themselves regardless of the way other characters and social structure direct the attention to their physical self. Beautifully done and entirely provocative, the film does a justice to the representation of the female across two different cultures. Bravo!

Generational Crisis in Le Grand Voyage

May 30, 2013

“Grandma, click on the icon for Internet Explorer.”

“Click with what? Where is the icon? These fancy gadgets are impossible.”

We’ve all had a conversation like this with someone from the older generation, the generation that only had outside to play with, no fancy Playstations or iPads. In our high tech world, it’s no wonder that we have lost a little bit of the connection with the generation of our grandparents. The evidence of this phenomenon can be seen all over the world and the situation between Reda and his father in the film Le Grand Voyage is no exception.

When Reda’s father tells him that he is going to drive them to Mecca, Reda is angered to say the least. His whole life is in France. Final exams at school are coming up and his girlfriend is there too. The one thing that can connect him to his world in France during the trip is his cell phone. The father, wanting to connect with Reda on the trip, throws the cell phone in a garbage can. The father was trying the only thing he knew to try to make his son understand the importance of the journey. Though this may seem cruel in this generation, I believe it was a father’s attempt to interact with his son. The cell phone was a distraction from what really matters, and the father’s attempts to get rid of those distractions is heart wrenching.

There is hope for them though. Before they get to Mecca, Reda asks his father, “What’s so special about Mecca?” Reconciliation is completed here. Finally Reda cares enough to ask what the point of the trip was. Father and son meet in the middle acknowledging that they learned a lot. When both sides give a little, the result is a mended family. Though the generational gap may seem huge, it is not infinite. Accepting that there is knowledge on both sides can lead to love and mutual understanding.

Ali Zaoua

May 24, 2013

Ali Zaoua is a movie based in Casablanca, Morocco about the lives of some children living on the street. They are all homeless and they are part of this gang-type group. The leader is a deaf-mute older guy that sexually abuses all of the younger boys that he is supposed to be watching over. The four main boys of the story used to be part of that pack but they left and have been living on their own for awhile.

At the beginning of the movie, the sort-of leader of the four boys is murdered by the other gang.  This paves the way for the plot of the movie: the three friends that are left are trying to have a proper burial for their fallen friend. Throughout the entire movie, the boys invent new ways to raise enough money to get a pastor and a burial sight for their friend.

Even though this movie was sad to watch most times, I enjoyed watching it because it was so real and so raw and it did a good job at getting an accurate portrayal of what it is like to be a street kid in Morocco. I love the fact that the creator of the movie decided to use actual street kids instead of actors because the feelings and emotions are correct and realistic and not faked and directed. For a movie like Ali Zaoua (one that is meant to capture the true essence of what it means to be a street kid in Morocco), it was essential to have actual street kids play the part.

This movie not only shows people the lives of the children in Morocco, but also the lifestyles of the adults as well. This movie makes prostitution seem like a natural thing and who knows, maybe it is. I like that it not only frames how the children live, but also how the children view the adults in their lives. The children have had to take care of themselves for basically their entire lives and have caused them to have to grow up extremely fast. It’s really depressing to watch little ten years olds have to try and get food and sleep in alleys and on the streets. These kinds of movies make me thankful for everything that I have in my life.

The Wedding Song: A Struggle for Security

May 24, 2013

Karen Albou’s The Wedding Song begins with a scene in which a small child sings a song about a beautiful bride who has all the necessary outward appearances for her wedding. Hauntingly, the child ends the song with the line, “But the bride is missing something.” The narrative centers around two girls, Nour, a Muslim, and Myriam, a Jew, best friends who are both brides-to-be. Throughout the film, Albou provides the audience with hints as to what each bride is missing, but it is not until the final frame that the viewer can vividly see what each bride truly desires.

            Set during WWII, during the German occupation of Tunisia, war provides each character a further sense of urgency throughout their respective struggles with marriage and intimacy. Nour’s lover, Khaled, pressures Nour into sexual acts and intimacy before she is ready. The result is a relationship that is based on passion, but with no abiding sense of love at the core. Myriam does not experience the passion of a lover, but is instead forced to marry Raoul for the monetary assistance he can provide to her family. This lack of respective fulfillment leaves each girl longing for what the other has. With Nour experiencing an overbearing, sexual pressure from her lover, and Myriam facing persecution from the Nazi regime as a Jew and from Raoul’s expectation of a son, each character feels a loss of love and companionship, love that is not fulfilled by their respective husbands.

            Before the final scene, Albou finally gives the viewer that last line of the unfinished wedding song, “The bride is missing her husband.” On the night of Nour’s wedding, after having relations with Khaled, an air raid strikes their home in Tunisia. Nour flees to a shelter a safety, away from the presence of her new husband. It is here that Albou offers an unforgettable image. The build up of each girl’s story culminates in their moment together at the shelter. Nour and Myriam find each other, and engage in an embrace that transcends all boundaries. In the midst of their differences, Nour and Myriam receive in that embrace what they were missing from their husbands, love and acceptance, love that is not based on expectation or sexual fulfillment, but who they each are at their core. This unforgettable scene is striking in its poetry, and hope in spite of hardship. Each is looking for a way to be loved without regard, a presence that is absent from where it should be, within the bonds of marriage. In contrast to the dangers of the air raid, in that embrace, it is apparent that each girl feels a safety previously denied from them. It is a poetic resolution for each character’s struggle to find a desperately sought after hope in the midst of overwhelming oppression. Religious and cultural barriers are broken down in Nour and Myriam’s embrace, resulting in the gain of a life-giving love that provides security for the present, and promise for the future. 

The Wedding Song: The Female body & Friendship

May 24, 2013

The Wedding Song was a very thought-provoking, encouraging, movie that brings forth the horrors that many had to undergo with the Nazi occupation of Tunisia. It affected all of the individuals who lived there, regardless of whether they were Muslim or Jewish, man or woman, child or adult. The film depicts the friendship of two young girls. The Muslim girl was named Nour and the Jewish girl, Myriam. They have a difficult time understanding the situation that they are in due to their age and lack of knowledge. I found this movie to be at times cruel and unpleasant. But at others I found it heartening, it shows the power of true friendship.
I was shocked with many of the things that took place throughout The Wedding Song, many things that we in such a privileged land don’t think about or consider. In most cases we would be led to believe that the forced marriage would occur for the Muslim woman, but it is in this case the Jewish girl. This film opened my eyes to what pain and torture young women from other cultures and different countries had to go through during this time. It also broke down many stereotypes and changed the view of Islamic women in Tunisia.
It was interesting to see how nudity and the female body played such a large role in the movie as a whole. It wasn’t used to exploit women and it wasn’t used to sexualize, it was used to create community with others, to show the holiness of the human body. But at one point in the movie Myriam is in fact turned into a sexual object. The scene that disturbed me the most was when Myriam was getting waxed before her wedding due to the preference that her husband had. In this way she wasn’t treated as a human being, but a sexual object. Her feelings are disregarded and her soon-to-be husband gets to choose how he wants her.
My favorite scene in the movie is soon after Nour and Myriam get in an argument about their current situation, seeing as though Myriam was able to go to school, and Nour was not. This upset Nour, eventually she was told by her fiancé that Myriam was wrong in her beliefs. She was told that she should no longer speak to her. The two of them spot one another in the bathhouse, shortly after it is raided by soldiers who are ready to arrest anyone who isn’t Muslim. Nour grabs a hijab and throws it to Myriam, saying that she is a sister, she is a Muslim. The veil wasn’t used as a symbol of oppression, but as a symbol of power and resistance. She saves her best friend and they realize that their friendship is stronger than anything that they’ve ever encountered.
I overall truly appreciated this movie, even though at the beginning it was a difficult concept to grasp. But it also gave me an understanding of how people in other countries suffered in a way that one living in America could never comprehend. The discrimination towards a select group of people in this case of the Jews disgusted me. But the fact that these girls were able to stick together gave me hope. In many ways these young girls were set against one another, but that didn’t stop them. Even when things became more difficult and they were each married their friendship surpassed my expectations. In the end it shows how strong a friendship can be and how hardships can essentially bring two people closer together. This film was heartwarming and mind-twisting and it gave me hope for humanity as a whole and relationships all together.

Street Brothers

May 23, 2013

         Mid film, my classmate, Ali, paused, looked over at me and said, “It’s amazing how old they are at such a young age”, and it really is. The street children in the film Ali Zaoua are fending for themselves, forced to look after one another, and yet, the vibrancy of their lives is apparent many times throughout the film. Multiple times I found myself wondering whether or not I was sympathetic for these youth because of their seemingly bipolar way of loving each other. It quite possibly could be that coming from a family of girls I am simply not used to the rough ways of young boys, but I do believe that these boys’ specific social context has structured them to live and act the way they do. Filmmaker Nabil Ayouch has portrayed the three central characters, Omar, Kwita, and Boubker in a way that suggests they are uncertain how to love one another because they have never been recipients of love. The boy’s raw characterization allows viewers to grasp the magnitude of hardship that comes with forced independence.

            One scene in particular shows how this forced independence often results in forced dependence among the three friends. When Kwita returns to Dib’s gang, Omar is surrounded by gang-members trying to render the same fame and attention as his friend Ali once did. When Kwita arrives on the property Omar struggles with this decision of attention vs. loyalty. Omar watches Kwita from the sidelines, nestled in with the gang, as Kwita insists they are going to bury Ali. Even though Omar seems pleased with his moments of fame, Kwita speaks for all three of them when he says to Dib that they are not staying. Perhaps this has happened enough before that Kwita can assume Omar’s loyalty or perhaps Kwita himself can relate to the desire to appear greater than the rest in his obedience to Dib. Even when Kwita shouts “life” Omar is seen looking to the others before responding as if he doesn’t want to appear weak in his friendship with Kwita. With one nod of the head both boys follow Kwita down the stairs and off Dib’s property. As much as Omar wishes he could lead a group as both Ali and Kwita have had a chance to, he depends on Kwita for his well-being. Once they are back to their familiar ground, Omar puts his arm around Kwita. In this moment, their love for one another is reaffirmed. I believe that it is because of their forced adulthood that this transition can happen multiple times in the film where their love turns into fighting but only for so long before it is mended. The reason for this is the boy’s dependence despite independence. All of them are caught in this, even the gang-kids, and without their understanding, even Dib. Kwita, Omar and Boubker paint a beautiful image of loyalty despite immense hardship.

Orange and Blue Don’t Mesh: The Car as a Symbol of Difference in Identity in Le Grand Voyage

May 23, 2013

Reda, a young man in high school, is born and raised in France.  His father, a Moroccan man, has only lived there for a short time.  Reda just wants to be a normal guy, hang out with his girlfriend, and finish high school.  The father is a devout Muslim aware of the shortness of his life and just wants to make his pilgrimage to Mecca; with Reda.

Despite similarities of ethnicity and ancestry, Reda and his father are two entirely different people raised in entirely different cultures.  Le Grand Voyage (2004) portrays the struggle that ensues between a father and son who do not value the same things in life and yet strive to overcome their differences for the sake of their love as a family.

As a symbol of identity for both the father and Reda and as a means to represent the disunity between the two is the car Reda drives to take his father to Mecca.  In need of a few touchups and repairs at the beginning of the film the blue car is fitted with a bright orange door.  Blue, the color of peace, serenity, wisdom, and faith in contrast with orange, a vibrant color of energy, exploration, and creativity; it’s not hard to tell which color represents whom.   Because of the father’s strong Moroccan upbringing and Islamic influence, he is a faithful Muslim; he is a quiet man who, as the father and leader, expects to be obeyed the first time he says something.  Reda, despite being Moroccan, does not share his father’s beliefs having been raised in a different country; he is outgoing and strong willed, he wants to have fun and try new things.   The father is blue, Reda is orange.

The camera’s shots of their driving scenes often show the orange side of the car: as they struggle communicating, disagreeing on things, or fighting over what they value.  Seeing the orange door on the blue car signifies their intense disunity.  As father and son work through their differences and come to mutual respect for each other we start to see the blue side of the car more, this is toward the end of the film.  Neither Reda nor his father ever compromise who they are but they grow in terms of understanding of each other and understanding that they need each other and that, even though they are so different, they still love each other.  At the end of the film the disunity of the car becomes irrelevant; Reda sells it.  Disunity is no longer a part of who he is and reconciling with his father, which is more important than his pride, has instead taken place.

The Hope of Prince Ali

May 21, 2013

When first starting this film I did not know what to expect. Is it going to be hopeful? Is it going to be discouraging? Is this what all of Morocco is like? Do all kids suffer this life? The fact that I had to realize that this is what some of the kid’s realities are was infuriating. It hurt me to know that the norm for children on the streets is to be so deceitful, so dirty, so hurt by everyone around them. They didn’t have anyone. No one cared for them, they did not have a home to go back to at the end of a long day in the sun, trying to get people to buy their beat down, hand made little goods. The fact that there were gangs of children was quite shocking to me as well. The fact that they not only had to fight for survival and finding food everyday, they also had to fight each other by resisting going into a gang that would mark them even worse than before. Their resistance was to Dib and his gang, who when in contact with, was violent and abusive, with much control over all the little boys. So through all of this corruption, all of this turmoil, where did they find their hope? Where did they find their acceptance? It was in each other. Ali Zaoua was the prince of the streets. He was the leader in their eyes. The only hope that they found was in his stories of his magical island and the two setting suns that were a part of it. In the beginning scene of this film, Ali was talking to a reporter, telling her what his life was going to be like when he was older, that he was going to be a sailor, and sail away to his island with two suns. He was the only one out of the group of boys to verbalize his dreams, to let the reporter know that he was going to be someone and do something with his life. When Ali was killed with the stone by one of Dib’s boys, Ali’s friends Kwita, Omar and Boubker, adopted his dream. The movie then turned into an adventure to seek one single goal, to bury Ali. Throughout this journey to find the resources to bury their dear friend Ali, they come into contact with many different people that they had had ideas about but never knew, prior to Ali’s death. There is new discovery, there is even more hope than before. When coming into contact with his mother, there were a lot of different emotions and trials that were faced as Omar visited her three different times, part of him just wanted a mother, and to stay there forever. When Omar went back the third time, it was to tell Ali’s mother the truth. The truth that Ali had died and that they wanted to bury him. She was outraged, but it was soon after that that she accepted it and wanted to be a part of setting Ali free to the sea. When the boys came into contact with the sailor, he seemed to fill a certain role in the movie. He started taking care of them, letting them sleep in the cabin. Allowing them to dream up Ali’s island. And becoming a sort of guardian over them. A big moment and interpretation that I took from the movie was when Kwita was hurt by Omar with the glass bottle and goes to sit on the steps. When he is sitting there, a white and black little puppy starts crawling up to him, Kwita throws the dog down the stairs, yet the dog continues up, three more times. It seems to Kwita no matter how many times he tells the dog to shoo and throws him, he comes back. On the third time that the dog comes back, Kwita is now lying down and allows the dog to stay. He says “why do you keep coming back?” The dog begins to nestle up into his neck where his wound was and lay there with him. We could depict the image and symbol of the dog in many different ways but my first impression of it was that it resembled a God like figure, someone who no matter how many times you turn down, will always come back and comfort your wounds and heal your heart. My favorite scene in this movie was the ending one, with the boys dreaming up what Ali’s life will be like in heaven on his island. Also I loved the way that things came to life in this film. In a way, this is how it kept its innocence. The fact that there was still a sense of imagination in the eyes of Kwita. Price Ali will forever be their hope and determination to find and seek a better life, whether that is on the sea, on the streets. 

Wedding of Two Cultures Through Friendship

May 20, 2013

The Wedding Song is a touching movie about a deep friendship surviving even in Nazi occupied Tunisia.  Written and directed by Karin Albou, this film explores friendship across nationalities, while breaking stereotypes of Muslim and Jewish cultures.

            Transnationalism in this film is portrayed through the merge of Muslim and Jewish people in one community.  The teenage girls (Nour and Myriam) are best friends of different nationalities. Youth does not discriminate when faced with these differences though.  In fact, as a majority, the community opens its arms to different nationalities, embracing each other’s differences.  Nour and Myriam’s families respect one another—Myriam and her mother are Jewish, but Nour and her family are Muslim.  Despite their different backgrounds, the girls are friends and their families support this friendship.  An example is Myriam’s mother taking care of Nour as her own and visa versa.  Their relationship is born from location and then community, but not from nationality.  The Nazis are in the way of the unity between these two nationalities, which causes characters such as Kahled, Nour’s fiancé to choose between security with the Nazi’s or relationships within the community.   

            Kahled’s believed the only way for survival was joining the Nazis.  Not only did he desire to stay on the good side of the Nazis, but also he was desperate for money to marry Nour. This is just one example of the divide caused by the Nazis in transnational communities such as Tunisia.  Kahled’s desires overtook him, and his choice did not only affect his relationship with the Jewish community around him, but also his relationship with Nour and therefore Nour’s relationship with the Jewish community, particularly Myriam.  Upon realizing Kahled’s choice, Nour had to learn the strength of her love for Kahled compared to her deep friendship with Myriam. 

            At the height of Nour’s conflicting allegiances, the hamam was invaded by Nazis removing any Jewish women.  The Nazis distinguished the Jewish women from the Muslim women by the hijab.  Nour had to choose if she would follow Kahled’s instruction to stay away from Myriam or if she would save her friend about to be taken to a concentration camp.  Nour’s choice to save her friend shows the strong bond possible between people of different nationalities.  Nour realizes the importance of her friendship, despite their different nationalities and backgrounds. 

            While showing the strength and importance for transnational relationships, Albou also breaks stereotypes of Muslim and Jewish women.  Traditionally, people view Muslim women as either covered and oppressed or provocative and a part of a harem.  Jewish women are viewed as more Westernized, free to enjoy love, while also following the traditions of their culture.  In “The Wedding Song,” these stereotypes are flipped upside down.  Nour marries for love and saves Myriam with the hijab, a freeing action rather than oppressing.  Myriam, in contrast, is forced into an arranged marriage with an older man and consequently turns into a sex object for this man, displaying a form of oppression. 

            Understanding the strong bond in this transnational relationship as well as the fight against traditional stereotypes causes viewers to realize despite different nationalities, traditions, and locations, there are many similarities drawing people together.  Instead of focusing on each other’s differences and the built up stereo types, people should engage in conversation to understand one another’s beliefs.  This movie is a call to unity despite barriers set in the way.