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The New Urban Cinema in Morocco Jamal Bahmad
University of Stirling
This article examines the emergence of what I call the New Urban Cinema (NUC) in Morocco around the early 1990s. This term is suggested to replace the so-called New Moroccan Cinema (in capital letters), an exclusive and unsubstantial label which was invented by local journalists and international festival promoters. NUC will be analysed against the backdrop of the socio-economic and political climates of Morocco following the neoliberal market reforms of the 1980s. I will also explore the distinctive features of this new urban cinema by drawing on a few representative films. This task is carried out by identifying three strands within this cinema. The article concludes with a look at the crucial role of youth in the aesthetics and reception of this cinema. Cet article examine l’avènement de ce que j’appellerai le Nouveau Cinéma Urbain au Maroc au début des années 1990. Ce terme est proposé pour remplacer celui du soi-disant Nouveau Cinéma Marocain (en majuscules), une étiquette exclusive et sans aucune substance critique qui a été inventée par les journalistes locaux et les promoteurs de festivals internationaux. Le Nouveau Cinéma Urbain sera analysé dans le contexte historique des climats socio-économiques et politiques du Maroc à la suite des réformes néolibérales des années 1980. Je vais ensuite explorer les particularités de ce nouveau cinéma urbain en s’appuyant sur quelques films représentatifs. Cette tâche est effectuée en identifiant trois volets dans ce cinéma. L’article se termine avec un regard sur le rôle essentiel de la jeunesse dans l’esthétique et la réception de ce cinéma populaire. Keywords: Abdelkader Lagtaâ, Casablanca, Hicham Lasri, Moroccan cinema, New Urban Cinema
A tale of ordinary life in Casablanca, Abdelkader Lagtaâ’s Hub Fi Dar alBeida (A Love Affair in Casablanca, 1991) has at first glance nothing special about it to earn this film the pride of place it has been accorded in the annals of Moroccan cinema. Upon its theatrical release, in April 1992, however, this production performed a feat no other national film had done heretofore by drawing over 400,000 viewers to the cinemas. According to Sandra Gayle Carter, Love Affair owes its popular appeal to the fact that, in contrast to
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In an article published in 2002. What Moroccan Cinema? A Historical and Critical Study. The New Urban Cinema: take one To begin understanding NUC. Unlike the body of journalistic commentary. Kevin Dwyer provides an anthropologist’s view of this transformation by relating it to the dynamics of cultural globalisation. p. Given that scholarly literature on this cinema is still in its infancy. ‘Home-grown films are 1 2 3 Sandra Gayle Carter. p. In the pioneering studies of Roy Armes and Sandra Carter. However. there is no adequate account of the cinematic renewal ushered in by the success of Lagtaâ’s Love Affair. MD: Lexington Books.74 Jamal Bahmad national cinema hitherto. 1956– 2006 (Lanham. one has to problematise journalistic claims about Moroccan cinema in the 1990s. Armes surveys film production from the 1960s to the early 2000s with a comparative view towards the cinemas of Algeria and Tunisia. press reviews hold sway in what people think and say about it. 2009). 2005). an enhanced availability of public funding and screen time (in movie theatres and on national television) in the 1990s. it ‘more closely touched the sensibilities of the “new” Moroccan filmgoers’.3 What is missing from this account is the nuance that would put NUC in perspective without trapping itself in the proclivity of journalists and festival promoters to create a sea of confusion by announcing the advent of a new wave every few years. IN: Indiana University Press. Postcolonial Images: Studies in North African Film (Bloomington. Spurred by the relative waning of King Hassan II’s authoritarian rule (1961– 1999). 18 . and. it is fair to say that not only did it reconcile audiences with national cinema.2 Carter in turn notes changes in the Moroccan film scene in the early to mid-1990s. the social consequences of the Structural Adjustment Programme implemented in 1980s. she only reconstructs in passing what has become an ecumenical belief among the local film commentariat: Love Affair breathed new life into Moroccan cinema. what the national press and some film critics have called the ‘New Moroccan Cinema’ announced its arrival not only with a love affair in the sprawling cityscape of fin-de-siècle Casablanca but also as an overdue rapprochement between national cinema and a large domestic audience. Carter eschews the term ‘New Moroccan Cinema’ even if she stops short of exploring the aesthetics proper to the cinematic changes in the 1990s that engendered NUC. Roy Armes. but it also pioneered a novel politics of filmmaking in the country.1 Looking at Lagtaâ’s film twenty years after its release. 18. finally. Carter.
does not address the complex urban. From the diversity of genres to the 4 Kevin Dwyer. ‘Moroccan Film-making: A Long Voyage through the Straits of Paradox’. p. The demographic and social consequences of post-1983 market reforms on everyday life in Morocco in general. distribution and exhibition. the new popular urban cinema has been characterised from its inception by what the filmmaker Mohammed Abderrahman Tazi describes as a politics of proximity between the filmmakers and their audience. too. social. Morocco: Globalization and its Consequences (New York: Routledge.Casablanca Unbound: The New Urban Cinema in Morocco 75 increasingly popular in Morocco’. 37. Shana Cohen and Larabi Jaïdi. IN: Indiana University Press. it. in Everyday Life in the Muslim Middle East. 153. the political economy of the cinematic sector and the transnational routes of filmmakers and funding sources are the crucial elements that we need to probe for an adequate understanding of NUC. he writes. Beyond Casablanca: M. ‘reflecting the changing tastes of film audiences and their growing desire to see themselves and their own society represented on the large screen.5 On a deeper level. IN: Indiana University Press.’4 Whilst this broad assertion is not untrue. and filmic dynamics that led to the birth of NUC and the transformation of Moroccan cinema in its aftermath. A. as I hope to demonstrate. Kevin Dwyer. particular modes of production. 351. which had until then been dominated by paradigms that failed to establish an indigenous tradition of cinema veritably popular with its postcolonial public. In contradistinction. p. My contention in this article is that around the early 1990s a popular movement of urban cinema revitalised the Moroccan film scene. Despite its role as the quintessence of NUC. Tazi and the Adventure of Moroccan Cinema (Bloomington. its representational arsenal is not a homogeneous whole. 5 6 . 2006). p. and cities in particular. E. ‘urban’ is the critical element that has eluded the purview of journalistic and academic commentators alike. by Donna Lee Bowen and E. This attention to urban everyday life’s residue of contradictions and subversive potential allies NUC with audience expectations. 2004). Early (Bloomington. this politics of proximity denotes NUC films’ diagnosis of neoliberal Morocco through a focus on everyday life and ordinary people. ed. What is therefore needed today is a critical examination of NUC from the vantage point of its historical conjuncture. rather than yet another representation of life in the West. and politics of representation. 2002).6 The New Urban Cinema: take two Although NUC is marked by a realist focus on social issues.
76 Jamal Bahmad filmmakers’ distinctive styles. violence. This article will therefore explore the key features of NUC. on the one hand. This cinema is popular by virtue of its artistic innovations and a focus on pressing issues in Moroccans’ everyday life such as poverty. on the other. We should question the label’s critical purchase and contest its reduction of the diversity of post-1990 Moroccan cinema. not to mention its social contexts of production and reception. King Mohamed VI. Unlike the latter term. Geographical location. In concrete terms. this cinema has nothing of the relatively coherent aesthetic of cinematic traditions like Italian Neorealism or Third Cinema. The new realism of NUC is intrinsically variegated and no concerted attempts have been made by the filmmakers to give discursive coherence to the movement. from a critical perspective. what I have called NUC denotes a historically determined and aesthetically distinct movement of urban cinema which emerged twenty years ago and has gained critical substance and drawn ever-growing audience numbers over the years. and social inequality. and the 1990s cinema. However. the New Moroccan Cinema is a phrase out of kilter with Moroccan cinema’s modes of enunciation. the local press and international festival organisers often referred to what emerged as the New Moroccan Cinema. Whether used by festival organisers or taken up by the commentariat. Despite this striking heterogeneity in the Moroccan film scene in the 1990s. which is what is often mistaken for the so-called New Moroccan Cinema. This politics of proximity acquires a special edge in the case of Casablanca due to the metropolis’s exemplification of flagrant levels of social inequality and existential insecurity in Morocco under globalisation. should alert us to the problematic nature of this label. funding sources. NUC is a heterogeneous phenomenon which does not claim to be a programmatic movement of cinema. particularly Casablanca as the metropolis which has been the stage of most films and NUC’s critical diagnosis of the national condition under neoliberalism. and training backgrounds have variably influenced the representational politics of individual filmmakers and their contributions to NUC and Moroccan cinema at large. NUC is the cinematic articulation of postcolonial identity in the post-1983 Moroccan city. a blanket label further popularised by the death of King Hassan II and the ascent to the throne of his son. Looking back at . barely twenty years old at the time. widely promoted as a liberal monarch keen on building a new Morocco from the ashes of the old. the organic continuities between national cinema. and the absence to date of any scholarly treatise on the New Moroccan Cinema. The diversity of the filmmakers’ social and formative backgrounds is at the centre of this heterogeneous cinematic movement. generational differences.
1990. The Lips of Silence. She is Diabetic. A Woman’s Judgment. second-generation Moroccan immigrants in Europe in the majority. 2001. 2002. 2001. 2004). remains a watershed date in the recent history of Moroccan cinema. Mustapha Derkaoui (The Love Affairs of Haj Mokhtar Soldi. 1999. Women in Mirrors. 2007). Casablanca by Night. Rabiâa and the Others. Abdelkader Lagtaâ (A Love Affair in Casablanca. These first-strand NUC filmmakers deploy production methods and aesthetic codes in relative continuity with the history of the pre-1990s Moroccan cinema. 2002. 1997. 2000. The Closed Door. and Aziz Salmi (The Veil of Love. Stolen Childhood. Angels Don’t Fly. Despite some continuity with their pre-1990s works. When the public funding schemes improved in the 1980s and. Casablanca. 1995). The Friend. and producers. Hypertensive and Refuses to Die I & II. Mohamed Asli (In Casablanca.Casablanca Unbound: The New Urban Cinema in Morocco 77 twenty years of NUC’s existence. they took advantage of the state’s willingness to support cinema. 2004). A Simple News Item. 2008). The Casablancans. The Dream Thief. 1991. A Woman’s Fate. Love Story. 2007. 1995. Yasmine and Men. 2000/2005). 2011). 1993. were invited to screen their short films in the festival. 1990. Abdelhaï Laraki (Mona Saber. Jawhara the Jail Girl. 1998. which marked the centenary of cinema. better still in the 1990s and 2000s. 2003. Everyday life in a neoliberal society has been the common ground between these veteran directors and a younger generation of filmmakers which emerged after the mid-1990s. Yarit. their NUC films testify to how Moroccan cinema altered its politics of representation and became popular by tuning in to the micro-histories of ordinary people struggling against the challenges of a fast-changing world. Saâd Chraïbi (Women and Women. 2002. Casanayda!. The new cineastes met their old compatriots. Hassan Benjelloun (The Others’ Party. Ahmed Yachfine (Mysteries. Love in the Medina. The Dark Room. assistant directors. 2011). discussions flourished about the state of national cinema. The Satanic Angels. Born in the 1940s and 1950s. 2004. Face to Face. New directors from the diaspora. 2002. Casablanca Day Light. 1998. Rough Hands. The fourth edition of the National Film Festival in Tangier in 1995. these directors had been working in national and international cinema as filmmakers. The Son’s Return. 2011). and the Moroccan Cinema Centre (CCM) promised to cast the net of its funding recipients wider to incorporate the new filmmakers. The first strand consists of Casablancan or Moroccobased cineastes like Hakim Noury (The Hammer and the Anvil. 2003. 1993. 2003. Their productions over the years have . 2000. 2011). I can distinguish between three strands among its filmmakers. 2007) Ahmed Boulane (Ali. 2001. Farida Benlyazid (Casablanca.
2008. Comprising the second strand of NUC. his success in the festival circuit has not attracted large domestic audiences to his self-reflexive films. NUC as a cinema of globalisation belongs with film movements around the Global South today. 2010). Casanegra. 85. 2003. God’s Horses. 2011). North America. 2009) are the pioneers of this 7 Will Higbee. 2006. The End. The third strand of NUC is represented by a relatively younger generation of up-and-coming filmmakers with no definite aesthetic affiliations or neat transnational lineages. Leila Marrakchi (Marock. Whilst providing a glimpse into neoliberal Morocco through the eyes of its ordinary subjects. 2010. the films in this category ally outstanding artistic quality to audience appeal. What a Wonderful World. whose films are wellgroomed pieces of world cinema. Faouzi Bensaidi (A Thousand Months. which is often associated with the diasporic filmmakers in post-1990s cinema. to borrow a term from Will Higbee. Hicham Lasri (The Iron Bone. These hyphenated directors were born in the 1960s through the early 1970s and live between Europe. This ‘cinema of transvergence’. Casa. They learned their craft outside the patronage system of the local film sector. directors with diasporic connections include Nabyl Ayouch (Mektoub. The Rif Lover. thus securing the young filmmakers access to international distribution channels and additional or alternative funding sources. and Morocco. Ali Zaoua. Narjiss Nejjar (Dry Eyes. Zero. Put differently. 2003. NUC’s second strand is also remarkable for its success in the international festival circuit.7 is rooted in the local whilst speaking to the global. 2011). Noureddine Lakhmari (The Gaze. Bensaidi bridges the gap between the second and third strands. 2007. His difference from his peers in the second strand further puts paid to the New Moroccan Cinema label. Mohammed Achaour (A Film. Studies in French Cinema. My Land.2 (2007). The attentive viewer can identify transnational echoes in these films so readily that they can be read as global cinematic works on Morocco today rather than exclusively endogenous articulations of local issues. 2012). An interesting exception to this rule is Faouzi Bensaidi. 2009. 2003. Death for Sale. and Ali Benkirane (Amal. the films of this group of cineastes encourage a global perspective on local conditions. 1997. ‘Beyond the (Trans)National: Towards a Cinema of Transvergence in Postcolonial and Diasporic Francophone Cinema(s)’. However. A Minute of Sun Less. The Man Who Sold the World.78 Jamal Bahmad changed the face of Moroccan cinema. 2000. 2007. . 2012). Whatever Lola Wants. Lastly. Born in the late 1970s and early 1980s. even whilst remaining rooted in the local narratives and social geographies of Casablanca. 2004. Wake Up Morocco. 7. 2006. and Swel and Imad Noury (Heaven’s Doors. 2005. 2006). The Angels’ Terminal. 2005). 2006. 2012). Within my functional taxonomy of a three-stranded NUC.
Casablanca Unbound: The New Urban Cinema in Morocco 79 experimental and unapologetically subjective cinema of globalisation. and for the articulation of postcolonial subjectivities in urban space. and socio-political critique. In The End. To hammer . In addition to self-conscious grammar. Their films exhibit a penchant for formalist experimentation by incorporating MTV aesthetics. a socialrealist focus on everyday life and ordinary people in a globalising city and world is the common thread that gives NUC its unique alchemy of audience appeal. for example. Lasri. especially enhanced by the visual and aural references from local and global popular culture. and the Nourys’ films have implications for NUC’s appeal to local as well as international audiences. However. the cinema of the third strand is populated not by well-rounded characters but rather by an assortment of sundry visions. an urban desert and saturated digital landscape of visual and aural simulacra. artistic quality. are the work of young filmmakers striving to distinguish themselves from the rest of NUC. They draw on postmodern motifs to explore the subjectivity of Moroccans today. its dense narrative elements and cinematic techniques make The End markedly different from the bulk of NUC and its realist consensus. Whether one is watching Hakim Noury’s melorealistic films about the salaried class in Casablanca in the 1990s or his sons Imad and Swel’s formalist portrayals of existential angst among youth in the metropolis in the new century. The New Urban Cinema: take three The three strands of urban cinema sketched above are indicators of a diversity of approach and a plurality of experience within NUC. on the other. it is difficult to determine what exactly is happening where despite the wealth of codes in urban and filmic space. This third group of NUC shares the self-conscious filmmaking of the second strand whilst taking film grammar to new heights (sometimes at the risk of alienating large audiences beyond a small cinephilic base). With the streets deserted and the cityscape opaque. and the convergence culture of sci-fi movies and the new media. TV advertising techniques. NUC’s poetics of the real in narrative and staging assails us with a breathless immediacy and the sheer heterogeneity of postcolonial subjectivity under neoliberalism. Lasri’s The End and the Noury brothers’ The Man Who Sold the World (original titles in English). The fragmented narratives and formalist aesthetics of Achaour. Whilst this semi-silent black and white film is meticulously rooted in the socio-spatial fragments of neoliberal Casablanca and Morocco. on the one hand. we are confronted with a post-apocalyptic Casablanca.
the film follows a young man as he tries to find his way in a city that challenges his rural values. Another is the collective representation of the city as a monstrous body that corrupts human character. and Youri. However.80 Jamal Bahmad home the continuities and discontinuities between the three strands of NUC further. Spring Sun seamlessly weaves in the coming audience’s preoccupation with modern individualism and the disembedding impact of urban life on collective identity. Largely non-observant of their religious affiliations except perhaps Ramadan and Mimouna. Their way of life in upmarket suburbs cuts them off from the rest of the city’s less-privileged inhabitants. The film is influenced by the French New Wave and draws an arresting portrait of the protagonist as a young man in Casablanca. His urban saga is sombre and the film closes on uncertain tones. Youri. the director’s awareness of the absence as yet of a market for national cinema shaped his aesthetics and especially the film’s anticipation of its national audience. both Muslims and Jews belong to the upper echelons of Moroccan society. The cynical attitude of the filmmaker and his implied audience make the nation the mise en scène of Spring Sun in similar fashion to Moroccan cinema before the 1990s when NUC emerged as the cinema of neoliberal society. and their upper-class classmates are in the last year of high school at the prestigious Lycée Lyautey. the film’s unpopularity is not due to any esoteric obsession on the part of the filmmaker. This focus on nostalgia for past plenitude and the collective destiny of the nation is one mainstay of the cinema of the period. who stands in the filmmaker as the beautiful daughter of a Muslim bourgeois family. Latif Lahlou’s Spring Sun. It does so through the story of Rita. which is widely regarded as the first Moroccan film. Marock captures not only the autobiographical elements of Marrakchi’s days in her native Casablanca before she left for France. Set in Casablanca in the wake of the urban uprisings of 1965. Lastly. thus intimating the ambivalent march of the Moroccan nation in postcolonial times. The film foregrounds the failure of the postcolonial subject to experience modernity without compromising his traditional values. a Franco-Moroccan production set in Casablanca. but also the zeitgeist of a neoliberal metropolis and country approaching the end of the millennium. and the neoliberal stage thereafter. let us look at three films by three different directors and set in Casablanca at two different stages of its postcolonial history: the developmentalist stage from independence in 1956 to the early 1980s. The year is 1997. was released in 1969 to critical acclaim. and Rita. . The second film is Laila Marrakchi’s Marock (2005). a Jewish native of Casablanca. Spring Sun was made with a large popular audience in mind in what was then a massively rural and poor kingdom.
postmodernism has gone global beyond its Western birthplaces to faraway spaces in a Global South socially fractured by neoliberal policies. beneath the veteran filmmakers’ and critics’ doubts about third-strand NUC lie in its sophisticated take on the present and future of postcolonial subjects (as I will reveal shortly). This experimentalism in theme and form challenges common approaches to postcolonial cinema because of its global provenance and representation of a city increasingly shaped by the transnational circulation of images. The End is a contingent experiment in social realism to render urban subjectivities on the screen. Lasri’s second feature film tells the tale of a city on the edge through the story of Mikhy. Like the Noury brothers’ Heaven’s Doors (2006). Like other films of the second strand. Lasri and NUC’s third strand work with the existing Moroccan city. The film is also traversed by violent language and action to an extent unprecedented in NUC. Deploying a dazzling combination of fast shots and special effects characteristic of the MTV clip and commercial ads. a millennial black-and-white film set in Casablanca circa 1999. The controversy provided free publicity for Marrakchi’s film. A by-product of post-Fordist capitalism’s spatio-temporal configurations of class and culture. The last example in this discussion of NUC’s aesthetic features and stylistic diversity is Hicham Lasri’s The End (2010).8 A combination of factors makes this film a work of NUC’s second strand: its setting in neoliberal Casablanca. Marock was a succès de scandale: it was met by negative press at the National Film Festival in 2005 and engendered polemics in the conservative and the liberal media. capital. rather than the national-popular ideology. Often vehemently attacked by local film critics.Casablanca Unbound: The New Urban Cinema in Morocco 81 Things get complicated in the film when Youri and Rita fall in love in face of the disapproval of society on their cross-faith bond. and ideologies. as the mise en scène for their visually exquisite and affectively visceral films. domestic controversy. 2007). a disaffected youth caught between loyalty to a ruthless police commissioner and love for Rita. This love affair foregrounds the tale of Casablanca as an urban society divided along class lines and growing conservative in its mores. and Mohamed Tozy. Marock touched a nerve about Moroccan society today through its autoethnography of Casablanca’s upper class and its relationship to the rest of society. L’Islam au quotidien: enquête sur les valeurs et les pratiques religieuses au Maroc (Casablanca: Éditions Prologues. a dumb beauty jealously guarded by her gangster brothers. . In addition. Hassan Rachik. and a transnational aesthetic and distribution. Lasri’s and other NUC filmmakers zoom in on the everyday of ordinary subjects in Casablanca and in the process unveil 8 Mohammed El Ayadi.
the audience glimpse their collective structures of feeling and both the alienation and potential for change that traverse their quotidian realms. University of Illinois Press. weakening the middle class. Regarding the former. by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Urbana. This is partly a reflection of a society where youth are numerically the dominant age group and partly evidence of the appeal of NUC’s social realism to youth in post-1983 Morocco.10 Up and down this class spectrum. it is the habitus of youth as society’s dominant age group which has been most affected by market reforms and the disembedding forces of globalisation. neither Carter nor Armes dwells on this crucial factor. NUC offers its audience the opportunity to see anew and reflect on the everyday.82 Jamal Bahmad and construct what Fredric Jameson calls ‘cognitive maps’ of and beyond the neoliberal present. NUC’s youth connection rests on two elements: thematic appeal and aesthetic innovation. NUC screens the present of a youthful society and arrests national time by focusing its lenses on everyday life in sprawling cityscapes. In this Fredric Jameson. 1990). a cinema of social issues could not have existed and thrived without the existence of legions of unemployed and disaffected youth who find themselves caught between the hard place of poverty and the rock of global capitalism’s disembedding flows. in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. p. In their histories of Moroccan cinema. 352. In contrast to the pre-1990s cinema dominated by patriarchal themes and national allegories. 9 . IL. ‘Cognitive Mapping’.9 A young audience The End brings us full circle to the important question of NUC’s audience. Through this defamiliarisation of everyday life. From Lagtaâ’s Love Affair in 1992 to Nabil Ayouch’s God’s Horses (official selection at Cannes 2012). and empowering a small but powerful upper class. ed. Morocco. 10 Cohen and Jaidi. NUC is thematically and politically a cinema of and about youth in urban space in a country where over half of the 33 million population lives in cities (with 12 per cent in Casablanca alone). Shana Cohen and Larabi Jaïdi have argued that the Structural Adjustment Programme of the IMF affected the class ecology of Moroccan society by swelling the underclass. The last component in the tapestry of factors behind this cinema’s success is its largely youthful audience. Taking advantage of the film medium’s capacity for entertainment and its critical belatedness vis-à-vis the mass and new media.
sexuality. most . it is noteworthy that Moroccan cinema changed face in the 1990s so radically that the celluloid classics of the 1970s and 1980s look like films from another country. Hakim Noury’s Simple News Item. this is not a cinema about youth but crucially by young people themselves. Besides this topical subject. NUC directors have made films in the last twenty years that delve deep into the social and political problems confronting Moroccans in their long march down the fraught path of postcolonial modernity. popular. NUC relies on the desire for and partiality of a youthful audience to see new images of society. Islam. pastoral imagery. Nabyl Lahlou. particularly in its second and third strands. and culture in Morocco today. class struggle. However. Saâd Chraïbi’s Jawhara. the new urban films are unique in tackling the issue through a daring and sophisticated lens befitting of a youthful society transformed by accelerated urbanisation and the rising marriage age. and brazen cinema. Despite the experiments of Ahmed Bouanani. Reflected on its screen are youth’s values and everyday life as they see and experience them. A related dimension of the thematic component of NUC’s youth connection is its chutzpah in tackling taboo subjects. NUC frames its stories of the metropolis against the background of a national space haunted by the persistence of memory in the present. other overwhelming thematics addressed are the gender question in general and sexuality in particular. and the Lead Years (1956–1990s) are some of the topics that the filmmakers have tackled head on or used as the mise en scène for their celluloid tales of urban life. citizenship. NUC has come to assume a primary position in the mediation of the social and youth’s habitus in urban and national contexts. corruption. and a cerebral aesthetic of national allegorism.Casablanca Unbound: The New Urban Cinema in Morocco 83 complex network of representation and reception. Violence. and Narjiss Nejjar’s Dry Eyes are among an increasing number of NUC films to have resonated with audiences and contributed to public debate about human rights. An urban. namely aesthetic innovation. NUC arrived with Love Affair in 1991 and has ever since engaged with the new realities and changing times of Moroccan society. Moroccan national cinema in its early decades was driven by a thematic grid centred around patriarchy. Although Casablanca was one of many places that housed clandestine detention centres during the dictatorship of King Hassan II. Although this social question has always been present in one form or another in the history of Moroccan cinema. Hassan Benjelloun’s Dark Room. among other sociological changes. Abdelkader Lagtaâ’s The Casablancans. memory. With regard to the second component of NUC’s youth connection. and Mustapha Derkaoui.
as the success of certain films and the failure of others demonstrate. has championed aesthetic innovation in all its three strands. For beneath the new media and screen fertilisation in his films lies a consciousness of an increasingly individualised society where younger members of the audience expect films to seduce them through both form and content. is predicated on an awareness of the changing landscape of film viewership. the technical innovation of NUC. for example. the stimulating and wayward aesthetic of third-strand NUC directors has notched up popularity among an expanding fringe of highly educated spectators who came of age during the digital revolution and consume as much cinema as other visual media everyday. especially in its second and third strands. Although it has yet to be accepted by the mainstream theatre circuit. using first-time actors is one of the distinguishing features and conscious strategies of this cinema. The youthful audience seems not to appreciate being paternalised or taken for uninitiated spectators. cinema multiplexes cater primarily to the middle and upper classes – that is. NUC. From Lagtaâ to the latest NUC comers. in contradistinction. The appropriation of video and new media motifs in the films of Lasri. where neighbourhood and small town theatres have all but disappeared (even if the rise of thriving multiplexes promises the continuity of cinema as a public ritual). NUC filmmakers have adapted key ingredients of Italian Neorealism to the Moroccan context. It is a means of capturing the raw and everyday life of Moroccans in a fast-changing 11 Part of the neoliberal ecology of Casablanca and other big cities. In their attempts to underscore the everyday life of Moroccan subjects. A successful NUC film today is one that allies a daring approach to social issues with technical innovation. can be said to be partly preconditioned on an awareness that many of the audience will watch his films on the small and interactive screens of their devices rather than exclusively on the big screen. In a related manner. .11 No survey of NUC would be complete without evoking its neorealist strategies. The filmmakers have benefited from the emergence of a youthful and image-literate audience that has come of age in a country permeated by the influx of images from transnational cinema and other screen cultures. to people with leisure time and disposable income. The handful of global multiplex chains also threaten to become a monopoly. The Moroccan–Spanish Noury brothers and the Casablancabased Lasri and Achaour entertain closer ties with the young audience base in Moroccan cities and nationwide than the other strands of NUC. Theirs is a postcolonial neorealism for the neoliberal age. This partly goes to explain the soaring popularity of NUC in spite of the decline of cinema-going across the country.84 Jamal Bahmad veteran directors were not keen on making stylistically self-conscious films.
. This aesthetic strategy embeds subjects in their everyday space. youth disaffection. Conclusion NUC is neither a nouvelle vague (new wave) nor a school of cinema.Casablanca Unbound: The New Urban Cinema in Morocco 85 world where digital media assume an increasing mediatory role between subjects and their social reality. the youth-led uprisings in Morocco and North Africa in 2011 carry an uncanny air of déjà vu. Sparked by a combination of demographic. The advent of a new generation of directors after the mid-1990s further anchored the new urban cinema in its local and global conditions of production and reception. A second intersection of NUC and the global traditions of neorealism is on-location shooting. NUC has reflected how market reforms of the 1980s and the following decades dissolved the social contract between the state and the people. It is instead a heterogeneous movement of urban cinema that emerged in response to the historical evolution of Moroccan society. NUC burst onto the national stage after the release of Lagtaâ’s popular feature Love Affair in 1992. The growing levels of social inequality. Moroccan filmmakers had been projecting a youthful and urbanised society increasingly emboldened to question social inequalities and political authority. political. cinema has been at the forefront of social and political change in Morocco since the 1990s. and economic factors. following neoliberal market reforms launched in 1983. shooting fictions on location allows the audience to appreciate the city as more often than not the major character in the films. More than any other art form or mass medium. Alongside the realist effect on the spectator. particularly in urban space. To the observer of the aesthetics and dynamics driving the continuing appeal of this cinema. and the spectre of radical Islam have consolidated the social-realist aesthetic of NUC in its three major strands.
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