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1/27/09 Moroccan Film

Morocco's film industry is rapidly growing. It is based in Ouarzazate, a city near the Sahara, which means that it has access to enormous dunes, scrubby deserts, and tons of extras. It has become the shooting-location-of-choice for most desert films, including movies set in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Holy Land, Egypt, etc. I don't know all the films shot there, but a few that leap to mind are The Mummy and its sequels, Kingdom of Heaven, Charlie Wilson's War [a PCV friend of mine actually met the guy who served as Julia Roberts's bodyguard while she was there!], and Babel. Leo DiCaprio was rumored to be there earlier this year, but I don't know what he was filming.

Babel, the last film I named, is the only one of that list actually set in Morocco. In fact, it's set in Tazarine, a village near some PCV buddies.

I just watched Babel. I can't figure out if I want to recommend it or not.

The plot is wretchedly depressing. Bad things keep happening to good people, usually for no reason. There's gratuitous sex and nudity. It shows Moroccans doing things I've never seen, notably smoking dope and guarding sheep with a rifle. A rifle! The shepherds here use a shepherd's crook, like their fathers and forefathers for thousands of years. So there are lots of reasons not to like the movie.

But... It shows a real Moroccan village. It shows real Moroccans, doing things I've seen a thousand times but can't describe as well as a movie can show it, like eat out of a shared tagine, drive tomobils, sleep on handwoven rugs, follow sheep through rocky terrain, and give selflessly to foreigners (who they also like to watch, incessantly). Watching it, I kept wanting to shout out, "Oh, look, see there's--" something so deeply genuine and familiar. Come to think of it, it reminds me of when my family watched the one and only movie ever filmed in my sleepy town back home. We kept pointing out extras we recognized (especially Mom!), and the buildings and streets of our town.

It's the first movie that I can point to and say, If you watch this, you'll get to see what my life here is like.

But I don't want to validate all the painfully, unnecessarily wrong things the filmmakers felt the need to put in, for drama.

OK, here's my compromise position: rent it, watch it on mute (to avoid the suicidally depressing, albeit brilliantly intricate, plot), and fast-forward through all the scenes not in Morocco. (And if you're watching it with kids, cover their eyes while you fast-forward through the Japanese scenes.) Wait--watch the Mexican wedding. And take it off mute for that. Because that was one of the few joyous moments in the film.

I think that's the only way I can recommend the film in good conscience. Unless of course you want a dark and convoluted movie-watching experience, in which case, marhaba.

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