Film review: MaRock

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Long before it came out in theaters, the movie MaRock (by first-time director Laila Marrakshi) caused an uproar. The film's been debated in the Moroccan press for months (and it's been a cover story for both main French weeklies, Tel Quel and Le Journal) . While secularists and liberals have championed the film as a great step forward for freedom of expression, others have accused it of being a needless attack on Islamic values that most Moroccans hold dear. The Islamist newspaper "Et-Tajdid" called on readers to boycott the film, and the Islamist opposition party the PJD (Justice and Development Party) has asked the government to ban it.

So what's the fuss all about? MaRock is a teen romance, and in most respects it's a pretty classic coming of age story. But the teens in questions are the moneyed, Westernized children of Morocco's elite, and the romance is an inter-faith one.

There are some wonderful performances (notably by the young lead actress, Morjana Al Alaoui , who does a wonderful job capturing the innocent recklessness, the sweet bravado, of a good-hearted teenage beauty; but also by many of the supporting actors). There are also some sharp scenes, here and there, that tackle so-called "taboo" subjects head-on. The furor over the film has focused on the sex and religion-related scenes--the ones that show the relationship between a Jewish boy and Rita, the Muslim protagonist, or the ones that show Rita insouciantly refusing to fast during Ramadan.

Personally, I found MaRock's protrayal of social realities and tensions more interesting than its supposed critique of religiosity. I liked how the film created interesting contrasts between the very rich and the very poor, put them in the same frame and showed the ways in which they occupy the same space but live different lives, or the way in which they interact. I liked how the privilege of the teens (in a country in which many are desperately poor) was contextualized and questioned.

The film opens with a conversation between two young street kids who sell cigarettes, commenting on the well-off children of Morocco's elite walking past them to a rave-like party. It then shows a shot of an elderly man (probably a parking attendant) praying between the gleaming BMWs of the young party-goers. Later on, there is a scene in which obnoxious drunken teenage boys hit on a pretty helpless housemaid. The driver and maids in Rita's house on the other hand are more present than the young girl's parents, and the affectionate relationships she has with them are given some very nice scenes.

Unfortunately, MaRock starts strong but loses steam. The central romance is resolved by an extremely convenient tragedy, and the final scenes come across as a trite valentine to the director's own teenage years.

Cross-posted at Moorishgirl.
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Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.