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From Casablanca to Casanegra: Neoliberal Globalization and Disaffected Youth in Moroccan Urban Cinema
University of Stirling, Stirling, Scotland (UK) Email: email@example.com
Abstract This article deals with the two major actors in North Africa’s 2011 uprisings—namely, youth and the city—through a critical exploration of the cinematic realism that has defined Moroccan filmmakers’ response to the country’s socioeconomic transformation under neoliberal globalization since the 1980s. Taking Noureddine Lakhmari’s Casanegra (2008) as a case study, I argue that this aesthetic frame discloses the critical potential of everyday life and the ordinary affects of anger and the will to revolt among Casablanca’s youth today. This acclaimed film further allows us to approach Moroccan cinema’s affective realism within an urban landscape in a country that has witnessed the rise of a new historical consciousness of postcolonial youth on and off the screen. The first part of this article looks at the neoliberal Casablanca that emerged in the aftermath of Morocco’s market reforms in the 1980s and how that transformation engendered a new wave of urban cinema a decade later. The second part looks at Casanegra’s affective economy of anger and revolt and the articulation of Moroccan youth’s postcolonial subjectivity. Keywords Moroccan cinema, youth, affect, Casablanca, postcolonial subjectivity
Near the beginning of Noureddine Lakhmari’s Casanegra (2008), Adil is pressurized by his friend, Karim, to explain his overwhelming desire to leave Casablanca by any means possible to emigrate to an elsewhere which he fan cies will provide opportunities for decent living and prosperity. Adil responds with a verbal eruption whereby words seem to come by
* The author is grateful to Professor David Murphy at the University of Stirling for, among other things, his meticulous reading of an earlier draft of this paper. Many thanks to MEJCC’s two anonymous reviewers for their constructive suggestions after reading an earlier version of this article.
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2013 DOI 10.1163/18739865-00503002
J. Bahmad / Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (2013) 15–35
themselves, an effect enhanced by a rapid montage of street scenes shot on the fly:
No more traffic noise, no more cops on my tail, no more nobs who run red lights because they drive fancy cars, no more drunks in the neighborhood, no more female beggars on the pavements who use kids who aren’t even their own to beg, no more bearded fundamentalists keen on forcing everyone into Paradise, no more perverted Saudis and Kuwaitis who soil this country, no more of my stepfather’s mug which I have to see every morning, no more Casanegra. [Pause] All that remains is Malmö with me in a little house with a chimney where I can watch the snow falling outside.
Whether this semi-soliloquy strikes one as evidence of an escapist attitude toward reality or, on a deeper level, as testimony of a national identity crisis, the affective forces of anomie and fury that animate it speak volumes about the restless condition of youth in a postcolonial society caught in the throes of neoliberal globalization. Adil and Karim are two young Moroccans struggling to make ends meet in the city of Casablanca at the turn of the twenty-first century. They are caught in the vicious web of economic need, social injustice and affective alienation—or, in sum, the objective consequences of the radical neoliberalization of the country’s economy and social policies since the early 1980s. Far from being the legendary city of Hollywood cinema or merely an open-air museum of Art Deco architecture from the colonial era, Casablanca is nowadays home to more than four million inhabitants and encapsulates many of the stark contradictions and bleak predicaments of late capitalism in the global South (Cohen 2004: 32–34). Casablanca, or rather ‘Casanegra’ as it has come to be renamed by its large underclass and disenfranchised middle class, has turned into a socially and spatially divided city as a result of unequal globalization and escalating levels of violence, spatial segregation and social exclusion. Through an affective poetics of social realism, Lakhmari’s acclaimed film restores the right to the city a fraction of its subaltern subjects and gives a voice to their articulations of dispossession and resistance, despair and hope, joy and sorrow, to partake in the construction of new forms of postcolonial subjectivity in neoliberal times. Casanegra’s portrayal of neoliberal Casablanca as an urban jungle, with its disaffected early twenty-first century youth, lends itself to a reading that takes the form of a cultural critique of the intersections of everyday life and the mass affects of revolt and, taken together, their implications for postcolonial subjectivity. This article thus aims to probe the construction of this subjectivity through the affective agency of rage and revolt that have characterized the cinematic repre sentation of youth and urban space in Moroccan cinema since the early 1990s.
In 1981. the absence of a welfare system to shield the poor majority from austerity measures. The most violent of these insurrections was that of June 1981 against the government’s decision to lift subsidies on basic commodities such as flour. Two primary areas of focus were the reduction of public debt and the promotion of direct investments in exports (Clément 1995: 1004). The economic recession was compounded by. A quarter of the city’s 3. Signs of this paradigm shift were borne out by the immediate consequences of the decisions taken in 1983: the budget deficit was significantly reduced over the course of the decade whilst inflation and unemployment soared (Pennell 2003: 177). The last two decades of the twentieth century were marked by the social consequences of the rollback stage of neoliberal market reforms (Peck and Tickell 2002: 388). plummeted on the international marketplace in 1976. the Moroccan regime ran into serious trouble (Catusse 2009: 186). The economic crisis. on the other. The 1981 bread riots in Casablanca marked the end of an era and the beginning of another in postcolonial Morocco. In line with this comprehensive shock therapy. J. severe austerity measures were implemented to boost economic growth. unionized workers and students enraged by endemic poverty and high levels of unemployment. They played a leading part in June’s subaltern insurrection (Perrault 1992: 279–288. and. by the cost of the ongoing war in the southern provinces following Morocco’s annexation of the Western Sahara in 1975. the streets of Casablanca were the scene of massive demonstrations led by young slum residents. The export-led economy was on the verge of collapse overnight due to the drastic shortage of hard foreign currency. Vermeren 2010: 80). This neoliberal package recast the role of the postcolonial state from the guarantor of socioeconomic development to the ultimate guardian of corporate interests in a globalizing world. Bahmad / Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (2013) 15–35 17 Casablanca: Neoliberal Metropolis When the prices of the country’s main export.2 million inhabitants lived in grimy bidonvilles (‘shanty towns’) and were disproportionally affected by such policy changes. phosphates. Businesses were ruined and jobs lost (Sater 2010: 96–97). . The developmentalist state receded and the neoliberal state took over in the early 1980s. soaring unemployment and urban riots were the major forces behind Morocco’s decision to implement the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) in 1983. sugar and butter. The liberalization of the economy along with the loosening of labor laws and the mass privatization of state-owned companies after 1988 left scores of people without jobs and many more at the mercy of flexible accumulation (Cohen and Jaïdi 2006: 38). one the one hand.
The influx of international companies from the Arab Gulf and Europe in recent years has contributed to the emergence of an urban policy in which financial speculation and large-scale real estate investments have become the dominant channels for investing capital surplus. Cattedra and Janati 2007: 8). and an increasing regeneration of the built environment to accommodate global capital. These infrastructures are often marketed in hyperbolic terms such as ‘the biggest’ or ‘the largest’ in North Africa. Bahmad / Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (2013) 15–35 Casablanca has dragged itself into the twenty-first century with an official agenda for urban renewal. the city’s Atlantic waterfront (Ghannam and Ait Akdim 2009: 40–49).52. feature the highest values in the world for consumption-based inequality’ (United Nations Habitat 2008: 74). Although urban planning has remained by and large an affaire d’état (under the surveillance of the Ministry of the Interior since the subaltern insurgency of the urban poor and unionized workers in 1965). 18 J. Recent developments betray a trend toward a Dubaization of this metropolis. and the Morocco Mall. on the one hand. Wright 1991: 100–101). A first glance at its cityscape today would suggest that it is undergoing a revival of the ambitious visions and frantic land speculation which transformed it from a fishing village into a colonial boomtown at the turn of the last century (Rabinow 1995: 303–304. this policy has largely been a matter of what Mike Davis calls ‘urbanization-without-growth’ (Davis 2004: 9). whereby private capital has not created enough jobs nor significantly raised living standards among the urban masses. Nevertheless. However. A recent United Nations Habitat report revealed that ‘Maputo and Casablanca. Casablanca Marina. Casa Tramway. The metropolis has been undergoing substantial transformation in recent years as some of its Grands Chantiers (‘big projects’) are nearing completion and even more are unveiled. both with Gini coefficients of 0. Flagship examples of these ‘monuments of progress’ include Casablanca Finance City. whereby urban space is redesigned to pander to the interests of corporate globalization. the real engine of urban growth around the world (Harvey 2008: 37). Casablanca-Tangier TGV (high speed train) line. global capital is playing an unprecedented role in the regeneration of Casablanca from grandiose projects to the real estate business of low-cost housing (Cattusse. Here is a metropolis with flagrant levels of social polarization in space and time . With a disproportionate concentration of over half of Morocco’s industrial and commercial assets. a new shopping megacenter in La Corniche. Casablanca is also a city increasingly divided by the market forces behind its neoliberal urbanism. on the other. neoliberal Casablanca has evolved a postcolonial urbanity of extreme social disparities.
[and] increased exclusion and inequality’ (United Nations Habitat 2003: 3). an alternative interpretation soon dawned on many observers: it could not have been a mere coincidence that all the suicide bombers were desperate youth hailing from Sidi Moumen. J. The official media in Morocco were quick to sell the coordinated bombings as ‘Morocco’s 9/11’. On the night of 16 May 2003. the Casablanca of the . Casablanca’s neoliberal urbanism backfired. The spatial growth and social dynamics of Casablanca are increasingly driven by different speeds and the concomitant splintering of its urbanity. The middle ground between the sealedoff worlds of affluence and poverty in Casablanca is occupied by an incapacitated middle class which has seen its standards of living decline in consequence of the state’s disengagement from its mediational role in the nexus of capital and social welfare since the 1980s (Sater 2010: 99). Aïn Diab. killing 33 people. In the same year as the Casablanca bombings. The report concluded that the ‘main cause of increases in poverty and inequality during the 1980s and 1990s was the retreat of the state’ (2003: 43). While the quality of life in opulent residences in suburbs like Anfa. and an impoverished underclass hardly able to make ends meet. thus shrewdly tapping into the global geographies of empathy following the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001. where most of the planet’s one billion slum denizens still live today: ‘The primary direction of both national and international interventions during the last twenty years has actually increased urban poverty and slums. and all the targets were real or imagined icons of unequally distributed wealth in the city—the five-star Hotel Farah. However. New forms of metropolitan sociality and informal citizenship have flourished in a way that puts into question the ideal of the city as a communal space for civic values and modern subjectivity. inhabited by the affluent Casablancans and the indigence of slum planets within the same cityscape is an indicator of the social cleavages and existential disjunctures that have become the hallmarks of urbanity in this neoliberal metropolis. Bahmad / Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (2013) 15–35 19 between an established bourgeoisie and mobile class of nouveaux riches living in exclusive uptown neighborhoods. Oasis and Californie is that of a first-world city. Twelve Islamist radicals blew themselves up. and a Jewish community center (Bargach 2008: 106. The proliferation of ‘fortified enclaves’. to use Teresa Caldeira’s term (1996: 303). the Casa de España restaurant. Navez-Bouchanine 2008: 373). Casablanca’s largest slum colony with over 150.000 inhabitants living in many karians or shanty towns. the United Nations Habitat agency released a landmark report with a clear indictment of SAP programs for poverty in the cities of the global South.
two crucial sites of resistance have been street insurgencies. in consequence of the demise of Hassan II’s repressive reign in 1999. The common motif in Casablanca’s counter-cultural palimpsest from the early decades of independence to the present has been a combination of youth and the popular. following James Holston. are reminders that the longue durée of Casablanca as an insurgent city is still alive. time and space. as we will see shortly. cinema. Caubet 2005: 233). These new conditions have set the stage for novel articulations of postcolonial subjectivity in the arts and. uncertainties and the affects of revolt against the contradictions of neoliberal capitalism. unprotected and low-wage informal service industries and trade’ (United Nations Habitat 2003: 46). 20 J. the everyday life of its dispossessed underclass. The rise of new forms of popular resistance in the arts. the city has been the stage of youth’s experiences of anxiety and hope through aesthetic channels ranging from protest music and subversive street arts. In fact. The emergence of alternative cultures of urbanity has challenged mainstream urbanism from below and demonstrated that the neoliberal metropolis is not a fait accompli but rather an unfinished project of what we can call. and the proliferation of civil society organizations and the waves of mass demonstrations in recent times. Reminiscent of La Movida in postFrancoist Spain. most notably in Casablanca. A prominent example of cinema’s engagement with the cultural renaissance in Morocco at the turn of the millennium is Casanayda! (2007). Moroccan cinema has registered the evolution of youth in a society in which they make up a sizeable portion of the overall population (Hirchi 2011: 91). In a metropolis under transformation by the global disjunctures of capital. as in 1965 and 1981. It is in Casablanca more than in any other place in the country that neoliberalism has transformed Moroccan society and the opposition to this hegemonic form of capitalism has crystallized new forms of popular resistance. The cultures of resistance that have accompanied and contested the distribution of power in Casablanca since the colonial period were never confined to the arts and high culture. on the other. to alternative subcultures. on the one hand. and popular culture such as the music of Nass El Ghiwan in the 1970s and the Nayda (lit. a documentary film by Farida Belyazid and Abderrahim Mettour on youth . disproportionally young and poor. youth subcultures and literature. Morocco’s Nayda refers to the proliferation of youth cultures in urban centers. meaning: ‘on the move’) movement over the last decade (Sabry 2010: 43. is seething with fractures. ‘insurgent citizenship’ writ large (Holston 2008: 309). Bahmad / Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (2013) 15–35 poor is ‘a dumping ground for a surplus population working in unskilled.
Moroccan cinema has thus traveled a long way from its allegorical modes of representation in the 1970s and 1980s to an uncompromising urban-social realism that manages. 2006. The Man Who Sold the World. 2006). These films show that the discontent of young adults in Morocco is not only about an age group’s broken dreams and will to revolt. making a cinema which is innovative. in the best cases. The historic uprisings across North Africa in 2011 in turn demonstrated that the future of these societies hinges on the collective will of their young blood. 2007). social segregation and existential anxiety. From the popular films of the 1990s to recent box-office hits like Casanegra. Against the mainstream of a national cinema hitherto dominated by esoteric metaphors. 2009). cerebral theses and pastoral imagery (Ben Barka cited in Carter 2009: 95). to be both aesthetically competent and appealing to large audiences accustomed to the commercial fare of Hollywood movies. many filmmakers have built careers and brought to national and international attention the . Bollywood musicals. J. Moroccan cinema in turn discovered raw material for its politics of representation in the problems of urban youth and their identity crisis. What unifies this wide spectrum of popular filmmakers is a drive to realistic representations. and Hicham Lasri (The End. Ahmed Boulane (The Satanic Angels. the social consequences of neoliberal market reforms implemented since 1983. the Noury brothers (Heaven’s Doors. popular and critical of Morocco’s neoliberal condition. and an enhanced availability of public and private funding schemes. This development was aided by the relative waning of King Hassan II’s authoritarian rule (1961–99). Bahmad / Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (2013) 15–35 21 subcultures and Casablanca on the move. this age group has become a real proletariat in search of emancipation from the chains of material deprivation. Other filmmakers like Leila Marrakchi (Marock. Mexico and Turkey. The paradigm shift in Moroccan cinema burst onto the scene in the early 1990s with popular productions like Abdelkader Lagtaa’s A Love Affair in Casablanca (1991) and has steadily garnered widespread acclaim over the last two decades with prize-winning films made by the veterans of Moroccan cinema together with a young and transnational generation of film directors (Carter 2009: 187. Morocco witnessed the birth of a popular urban cinema in the early 1990s. and TV soap operas imported from Egypt. Orlando 2009: 187). After two decades of experimentation with highbrow yet unsung poetics. In a country with high levels of youth unemployment and insufficient rates of socioeconomic development (Floris 2009: 6). 2011) have turned their cameras to urban youth’s everyday life in the city as the locus classicus of the ordinary constructions of postcolonial subjectivity. but also about the destiny of an entire society.
. Our societies are changing. Tazi’s comedy Looking for My Wife’s Husband (1993). In response to the Islamists’ ire against 1 Unless otherwise indicated. Casablanca through a Glass. Bahmad / Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (2013) 15–35 everyday anxieties and aspirations of young adults in urban space from a local perspective. or. where numbers had dwindled from 360 in 1956 to around 40 today. all flocked to the cinemas’ to see Casanegra (Beaugé 2009). Casanegra remains the most popular film in Morocco since Mohammed A. Lakhmari’s film was watched on the big screen by 500.000 spectators of all ages and social strata within weeks of its first theatrical run (Lorrain 2009: 119). . old. Darkly Casanegra (2008) is Lakhmari’s second feature film and the first in a trilogy about the city of Casablanca. Social in subject and realist in style. Lakhmari’s film was Morocco’s official entry for an Oscar in 2010. Lakhmari was asked what role Moroccan films should play now. it is fair to say that the street revolts in Morocco and North Africa in 2011 had already somehow taken place on the big screen in Morocco. Carter 2009: 266). [. the film fell victim to piracy and was available as a bootleg DVD only days after its national release (Boukhari 2009). A token of its popularity. His answer evinces a lucid vision and makes a plea for more realism: ‘Cinema should be visionary. . This is interesting to take into consideration since Casanegra was a succès de scandale after it was panned by the conservative segments of the establishment for its alleged moral depravity (Beaugé 2009). As the Le Monde correspondent reported: ‘Young. ] I think cinema should reflect society’ (Lakhmari 2011). Casanegra. Casanegra is a key film in this regard. their everyday life is explored and defamiliarized on the screen in a manner that urges them to ask questions about the present conjuncture and the subjective consequences of neoliberalism in a postcolonial society.1 In this sense. At the height of the 2011 uprisings in North Africa. and women veiled or in jeans. Nevertheless. social realist films have screened a generation of disaffected youth and contributed to social change in a postcolonial society (Vermeren 2001: 144–145). poor. 22 J. rich. Despite the current crisis of cinema theaters in Morocco. all translations from French and Darija in this article are my own. This cinema has enjoyed wide popularity because the youth identify with its projection of their concerns and sensibilities. which drew a record number of one million spectators to the theaters and five million TV viewers (Dwyer 2004: 2. where for two decades.
but rather that of one which accepts its share of amorality’ (Benchemsi 2009: 4). is always dressed in a dark suit. Throughout the film. Ahmed Benchemsi wrote in an editorial in the maverick weekly TelQuel: ‘The [societal] model which Casanegra proposes is not that of an amoral society. He went on to make a case for cinematic realism as the ‘shock therapy’ required ‘to open the eyes of Moroccans and shake the rigid certainties in which official propaganda has tried to lock them up for half a century’ (Benchemsi 2009: 4). broken families and the nervous conditions of liquid modernity (Bauman 2000: 24). The irony is that. Creatively deploying the codes of film noir and other genres of transnational cinema. J. Their dark tale unfolds against the backdrop of a divided city evolving at different speeds dictated by class inequality and a globalization which benefits only those with the material and intellectual attributes to meet its challenges. At the beginning of the film. Their resourcefulness in making ends meet against all the odds notwithstanding. As foregrounded in the plot. the two friends have opposing views on the way out of their everyday misery and risky survival tactics through petty crime. white shirt and tie. they live by their wits to survive. Karim. only to reach the conclusion that . Jobless and disaffected. Bahmad / Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (2013) 15–35 23 Casanegra. they spend their days loafing and meandering through the streets. he keeps a battalion of teenagers selling cigarettes by the unit in the streets. as he bittersweetly puts it in an moment of extreme despair. two Casablancans in their twenties. He scoffs at Adil’s dream of migration to the North and believes that a future can be made in Casablanca. between reality and dreams lies an unbridgeable gap. on the other. Adil is adamant that the only means out of his everyday street drifting is a visa to a postcard Sweden where he is going to marry a native woman and enjoy sitting at home looking at the snow falling boutdoors. who is in charge of his family after his father fell paralytic. It tells the story of three days in the lives of Karim and Adil. provided one is determined to sweat for it. they are overwhelmed by the hardships of everyday life in the city. Although conscious of the objective obstacles between their present reality and the dream of a better future. Living with his mother and a psychotic stepfather. to eke out his meager existence. Casablancan urbanity is defined by the specter of violence and rampant social injustice. In the course of the film. Adil and Karim are not discouraged from hustling their way out of the claustrophobic and grotty metropolis. this stylish film is ‘the image of Morocco today: complex and troubled’ (Lakhmari quoted in Aït Akdim 2007). and the dream of better living conditions elsewhere. on the one hand. However. Adil and Karim have to face the realities of daily sustenance.
as in the opening sequence of the film. Noureddine Lakhmari. The scam goes awry when the horse escapes from the stable at the eleventh hour and the police arrive to chase them through Casablanca’s downtown streets in the dead of the night. Zrirek has a serious car accident and Adil and Karim are left to their own devices to cope with the police on their tail. The next scene shows the boys still being dogged by the cops. Before the final credits appear. Adil has changed his mind about migration to Sweden: it is now Norway that haunts his daydreams. Zrirek. In the course of the chase. survival tactics alone are not enough to get them out of the real world of hardship and flagrant socioeconomic inequalities that push people to extremes of religious radicalism or one-way trips to the wasteland of drug addiction. This suggesting that for Adil and Karim there is no exit on the horizon from the mean streets of Casablanca and their vortex of everyday brutality. A systematic dreamer. They accept a perilous deal from a louche mobster. Karim is still lording over his cigarettes-by-the-unit business manned by teenagers adept in ducking and diving to avoid police patrols. Bahmad / Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (2013) 15–35 Figure 1: Karim and Adil (Casanegra. Karim and Adil are resolved to make one last attempt to earn some easy money to get out of Casanegra. he has acquired a postcard of a Norwegian city to replace his wellworn fetish of Malmö. we see the youth back in the streets going about their everyday existence. the deal involves drugging a racehorse on the night before competition day. 24 J. . 2008).
prostitutes. Bahmad / Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (2013) 15–35 25 Casanegra turns the camera on everyday life in Casablanca’s underside as a sociologist or anthropologist would study ‘human behavior in a spe cific environment’ (Lakhmari 2011). As its title suggests. . In Casanegra. as Henri Lefebvre calls the people’s demand for ‘a transformed and renewed right to urban life’ (Lefebvre 1996: 158. drug addicts. The film pays tribute to the director’s self-avowed amour vache (‘tough love’) for this metropolis and the common people’s resourcefulness in surviving under difficult circumstances (Lakhmari cited in Idrissi 2008). the black frame dissolves and the audience are thrust into daytime Casablanca from the perspective of its underbelly. There is also a telling exchange of linguistic and . The viewer’s affective response is further maintained in a state of flux by this second sequence’s deployment of three freeze shots. Casanegra. The film was shot on location and mostly at nighttime to bring out the force of the mundane existence of the hordes of disaffected youth. The exercise of the right to the city can also bring the poor and the rich Casablancans into violent confrontation. vicious and fascinating. we witness this firsthand when Karim engages in a fight with a wealthy transvestite in the palatial home of the latter. original emphasis). J. à la François Truffaut in The 400 Blows. This kind of war of position waged by the marginal characters of Casangera has become more urgent in the wake of the strains placed on social mobility by neoliberal globalization. The credit sequence is impressive for its nostalgic effect which puts us in an affective state only to be shocked back into the city’s sordid reality by the next sequence of the police chasing Adil and Karim. This sequence also sets the mood for the viewer’s eminent journey to Casablanca’s nocturnal underside. This other Casablanca is violent. . it is loved and hated in equal proportions as is revealed by the lyrics of the film’s conclusive rap soundtrack. seedy. The last freezeframe fades out to a black screen lasting for a few seconds before we see a message in white letters: ‘Three Days Earlier. and other marginalized types who inhabit their city only at night to eschew the gaze of those in control of the city’s economic and political powers. the main character of Lakhmari’s film is the dark city itself with its ordinary types and the brutality of its mean streets. Casanegra opens on a sequence with the credits impressed on the city’s deserted and emblematic street scenery at night. drunkards.’ As the writing fades out. of the chased youth. This tribute to the aura of film noir’s fascination with the metropolis and its deployment of high-contrast shadowed cinematography is nondiegetically amplified by melancholy jazz music. The occupation of the city by these subaltern subjects can be seen as their manner of exercising ‘the right to the city’. everyday life is the playground of postcolonial youth’s existential angst and horizons of hope.
we can grasp how this radical mise en scène subtly aligns the viewer with the the everyday world of Casablanca’s underclass. he uses the language to exclude them from his upper-class world. a stalwart woman from the ranks of the customers. In addition. the camera is pointed skyward at key intervals in unflinching and expressionistic long takes. The social and spatial discrepancies in Casablanca are also rendered in Casanegra through color and its contrasts. a poor youth like him is not entitled to a long-term relationship with a member of an upper class ‘alienated from its fellow citizens in terms of lifestyle. Conscious of their lack of fluency in French. a space naturally adorned with white Art Deco architecture. an antiques dealer and single mother. thus keeping them at bay. Most of the film’s action unfolds in downtown Casablanca. he strikes back with the only means available to him: physical violence. The ordinary space of downtown Casablanca is contrasted in Casanegra with suburban mansions to point out the spatial consequences of flagrant income inequality and the division of this metropolis into two cities: the Casanegra of the poor majority and the Casablanca of the affluent fringe. Lakhmari’s work goes beyond a tale of two cities to explore their life-worlds in a way that does not overload the film’s narrative structure. Karim’s hope of redemption in a love affair with Nabila. Rawiya. In this perspective. 26 J. enhanced by deep-focus photography and slow film stock. This rekindles in Karim a bitter awareness of the class divide and its symbolic violence in Casablanca. education. For example. the deluxe nightclub’s western rhythms and rhymes are no match for the poetic realism of local popular music and the psychedelically earthy liveliness of the customers at the Où Tout Va Bien cabaret owned by Zrirek and run by his mistress. In a city divided along class lines. With other colors drained . After many decades of uneven development. to visually emphasize both the utopian dreamwork of modernity and its disjunctures in post-colonial Casablanca. While Lakhmari’s social realist film is about the brutality and violence of youth’s everyday life in a neoliberal metropolis. lasts for only one day and a night. the rich residents of the metropolis relocated to the deluxe suburbs and left a disenfranchised middle class to inhabit this colony of architecturally superb yet sometimes crumbling buildings. However. to allow viewers to take in the melancholy beauty of this architectural landscape. the Lime Night nightclub frequented by affluent Casablancans is devoid of the ambiance in the poor folk’s cabaret. Bahmad / Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (2013) 15–35 visual aggression in this scene when the rich person uses a camcorder to videotape Adil and Karim. language and professional future’ (Sater 2010: 10).
aural and affective rhythmicality that speaks volumes about the deft cinematography of Casanegra and Casablanca’s vibrant urbanity. J. Lakhmari’s urban saga unfolds in intensive and multilayered folds of spatial and temporal contrasts on the one hand. This colorful expressionism enhances the film’s realist effects without denying its power to score points as a sociopolitical text. Blackness also projects nocturnal Casablanca and its mean and garbage-strewn streets occupied by whores. Zrirek and others through an affectively charged play of black and white. Casanegra as a dark double of the white city permeates every frame of this monochrome film with a darkly shaded ennui. Besides the built environment and urban types. street children and other social outcasts excluded from the regimented world of the daytime city. Karim. and the altered mental states of the characters on the other. This visual mise en abîme is enhanced by the dramatic jazz musical scores playing in the background. 2008). Defying the power of language alone to transmit the existential canvas of Casanegrans. drunkards. The city dominates the film as a populated metropolis that blends the human and the spatial in a colorful. Noureddine Lakhmari. black and white are the dominant shades worn by Casablanca. homosexuals. Bahmad / Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (2013) 15–35 27 Figure 2: Karim in a rare daytime scene (Casanegra. throughout this noirish film. . The viewers are granted access to the subjective states of Adil. pimps. White buildings evoke the Casablanca of yore while black denotes the sombre visions and everyday existence of its marginalized inhabitants in the present.
Although various Moroccan films have tackled the problems and dreams of this age group in a society with a considerable young population. Lakhmari’s film stands out for its deep portrayal of urban youth’s ‘structures of feeling’ under the yoke of neoliberal globalization. Conceived thus. both film and filmmaker belong within the current of briseurs de tabous (‘taboo breakers’). Their gift in developing survival tactics in a social and spatial environment of limited means is what makes them the symbol of their generation. Their secular vision is nothing short of a creative destruction of a postcolonial society torn between a manifest desire for secular modernity and a powerful longing for age-old traditions. Casanegra addresses this sensitive area of postcolonial subjectivity through what can be termed affective realism. feelings and . Casanegra and the wave of films that have garnered wide audience attention since the 1990s have applied shock therapy to Moroccan society through a politically motivated aesthetic realism. his humanist film stages the everyday life of urban youth in its raw texture and quotidian brutality. even as it compels it to question its cultural identity and articulate a historical consciousness apt to respond to the challenges of neoliberal globalization. Bahmad / Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (2013) 15–35 Youth Revolt and Affective Realism Casanegra’s streetsmart heroes are the emblems of a young generation of Moroccans living in a present so difficult it leaves them with little hope that the future will be any different. they have grown up in a country where little has been done to equip them with adequate educational and material assets to face the demands of actually existing neoliberalism. who self-identifies as a briseur de tabous. Born in the 1980s and the early 1990s. Even though Lakhmari has gone to some lengths to play down elements of street violence and language to get the script past the censorship board. an account of the differences between emotions. Karim and Adil are two ordinary youths from a generation torn between the harsh realities of their birthplace on the southern borders of the affluent global North and the spectacular illusions of virtual modernity. Co-written and directed by Lakhmari. a society that Casanegra aims to shock. 28 J. They are a generation of disaffected youth in a society bereft of real opportunities for social mobility. Before proceeding to explore the deployment of this politics of representation in Casanegra. a movement of Moroccan artists who aim to change society by unsettling its unconscious convictions about religion and sexuality and thereby forcing it to see itself through the prism of repressed desires and subaltern narratives (Boukhari 2009: 46). The grievances and insurgent desires of disaffected youth are part of this society.
nor is it a characteristic. affect is the ultimate locus of postcolonial subjectivity in Casanegra as a work of Moroccan urban cinema. they give them to us and make us become with them. are preconscious and as yet unqualified intensities. the inventors and creators of affects. As we will see shortly. non-personal and non-linguistic undercurrents of human relationships. ‘to rediscover Casablanca through unknown faces’ (quoted in Mrabet 2008–2009). ‘affect is not a personal feeling. in the words of Lakhmari. They not only create them in their work. Bahmad / Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (2013) 15–35 29 affects is in order. Affect is the essence of all art. this film relies on the power of the human body to articulate the deep. according to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. including those of Adil and Karim. linguistic and haptic. This film’s affective realism projects urban youth’s everyday anger and will to revolt on three levels: physical. Moroccan and postcolonial cinemas are not exceptions to the affective transformations of popular art and its potential for the articulation of alternative “becomings” of the human subject. In dialogue with Lakhmari’s cinematic godfathers from Italian Neorealism to American independent cinema. it is the effectuation of a power of the pack that throws the self into upheaval and makes it reel’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 240). they draw us into the compound (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 175). Most roles in Casanegra. J. As for feelings. in relation to the percepts or visions they give us. Violence in its visceral intensity is the primary and most visible manifestation of the transmission of the affects of anxiety and rage together with the scarce moments of joy which punctuate what is otherwise a dark tale of Casablanca from below. ‘we are never alone. In this sense. ‘In affect’. Adil and Karim’s raging anger is a collective affect rather than a personal feeling or a fully actualized social emotion. The rationale behind this neorealist convention is. they are the personal and biographical materializations of affect (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 240). What I have analyzed as youth revolt on screen is an organization of the mass affects of social malaise and the will to revolt that had been gathering force under neoliberal globalization in Morocco. As Deleuze and Guattari argue in A Thousand Plateaus. are played by nonprofessional actors. As Deleuze and Guattari put it: It should be said of all art that. We are drawn to witness the workings of the human body in its radical connectivity to other bodies and the spatio-temporal underpinnings of urban life. Massumi writes. That’s because . Affects. artists are presenters of affects. while emotions are social codifications or reterritorializations of these intensive masses of energy which inhabit our bodies and the world on a plane of immanence.
Lakhmari’s film is thus more than a mimetic or miserabilist verisimilitude of the drab daily life in a city gone adrift. The film’s affective violence is a social realist expression of the condition of a divided city in a divided world. In Casanegra. While the majority of his actors were born and bred in Casablanca or had lived there for a long time. . For example. . However. to others and to other situations’ (Massumi 2002: 214). 30 J. This uncensored and poetic vulgarity lends credibility to the film’s realist representation of violence and everyday life in Casablanca. This participant observation culminates in the frank talk of the film which led to it being denied entry into the Marrakesh International Film Festival in 2008. Noureddine Lakhamri. There is hardly a single sentence in the film’s dialogue that does not contain a swear word. 2008). Lakhmari insisted on reacquainting them with its underground zones. it was not so much the film’s unrefined street language that deterred the organizers of the royal festival from Figure 3: Two faces of violence in the film (Casanegra. By foregrounding Casanegra’s physical violence as an affective process and non-personal encounter between actor and spectator. yet it manages to articulate this condition in a creative manner through the power of affects. nighttime rituals and street language (Boukhari 2009: 46). .] are basically ways of connecting. Bahmad / Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (2013) 15–35 affects [. affects are the connective tissue enabling the characters’ bodies to affect and be affected by one another as well as in relation to the intensive textures of urban space. the sudden outbursts of physical violence in Casanegra give us a sombre portrayal of a city gone awry and affectively render and tactfully shatter beyond words the hackneyed idea that Moroccan society is eternally peaceful and content in its quiescence.
In this film. the body is ‘a nexus of variable interconnections. but rather the political message of Lakhmari’s work. a message so strong even language cannot circumscribe it. As Moira Gatens puts it. for example. Patricia Pisters posits that the affection-image ‘works directly on the affective nervous system that has its sensors everywhere in the flesh’ (Pisters 2003: 70). The verbal eruptions of Adil or Zrirek. Casanegra’s intensive violence is politically resonant with the socioeconomic realities of Morocco today. The film experience thus becomes a single continuum of affectivity whereby the spectator is plunged into the lived experience of Casablanca’s disaffected youth. Adil and others. This affective circuit approximates what Deleuze calls a nooshock or ‘the shared power of what forces thinking and what thinks under the shock’ (Deleuze 1989: 56). are so viscerally violent and intense that one feels them in the flesh of the characters and equally in one’s own. Lakhmari’s preference for the power of cinematic affect to engage the audience in the everyday drama of Casablancan youth amounts to an aesthetic of immediate and realist expression beyond language-based approaches to reality in cinematic and cultural expression. In this Spinozist conception of the human body (further elaborated by Deleuze and Guattari to theorize the potential of the corporeal in late capitalism). As the spectators of Lakhmari’s film. J. They are instead multiplicities and multitudes which thrive on the capacity to affect and be affected by other multiplicities. to use Lessing’s term cited by Barthes (1974: 36)—erase the frontier between the characters and the viewers of the film when Casanegra relies less on language and more on images in and of themselves to exercise their affective power on the human body on and off the big screen. The haptic dimension of Casanegra’s affective realism refers to the power of bodies to affect and be affected beyond linguistic representation. This convincing violence of language metamorphoses into an affective process by becoming ‘embodied in purely automatic reactions most directly manifested in the skin’ (Massumi 1995: 85). Casanegra’s haptic politics of articulating the brutality of everyday life among the city’s underclass of subalterns gives it ample force and efficacy. Such moments of high intensity—or pregnant moments. bodies are not closed systems of meaning. Writing about the role of affect in cinema. Transmitted through the affective undercurrents of verbal vulgarity. an intensification and disarticulation of bodily . a multiplicity within a web of other multiplicities’ (cited in Probyn 2005: 141). Bahmad / Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (2013) 15–35 31 including it in their competition. ‘perception becomes a kind of physical affliction. to expand geographically Steven Shaviro’s Deleuzian line of thought. we are made to be affected by the flows of raw violence in the everyday world of Karim.
attentive consideration’ (Shaviro 1993: 52). Through its realist portrayal of the other side of Casablanca and the extraordinary exploits of its resentful yet resourceful heroes. and a burning desire for an elsewhere and a better world made attractive by mass media yet remains beyond their reach . ‘Casanegra is a lucid and uncompromising gaze at a world full of violence. Casangera has delved into the psychology of a city and a generation of youth torn between a bittersweet love for their country and rage against the post-colonial and neoliberal systems that have failed them. a stammering youth with only one companion to share his moments of sorrow and joy: a turtle. 32 J. Bahmad / Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6 (2013) 15–35 Figure 4: Adil’s own revolt in Casanegra (Noureddine Lakhmari. to identify with its everyday heroes. it goes beyond the diagnoses provided by sociologists and futurists’ (cited in Boukhari 2009: 42). on the one hand. 2008). sensation rather than a process either of naïve (ideological or imaginary) belief or of detached. whereby the whole social situation of neoliberal Casablanca and its geographies of abandonment can be glimpsed in one stroke. In this sense. most notably young people. One of the myriad manifestations of this affective realism in Casanegra revolves around Haitham the Turtle. The virtuoso performance of this role by Haitham Idrissi and the minimal deployment of dialogue combine to make the scenes involving him and his pet intense experiences of haptic connectedness between actor and spectator whereby the audience is symbiotically canvassed to be affected by and live the real experience of a poor and abandoned youth without the need for linguistic communication. This pregnant moment of affectivity is an exemplary case of the Brechtian social gestus. These three levels of affective realism make Casanegra a unique film with a lucid vision which has attracted large crowds. As Noureddine Sail argues.
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