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Film Review: Rock the Casbah

Zawya's latest screening, Laila Marrakchi's 'Rock the Casbah', brings a poignant tale of family, loss and the ties that bind, with powerful performances from a star-studded cast.

We've become accustomed to first-rate independent Arab cinema from Zawya, and last night's premier of Laila Marrakchi's French-Moroccan Rock the Casbah was no exception. Marrakchi sets the scene of the film at the funeral of Hassan, played by Omar Sharif, whose (literal) ghost serves as a sort of guide throughout the film, introducing an element of magical realism to the otherwise realistic dramatic unfolding of events.

Introduced very amicably at the beginning of the film, Omar Sharif's appearance in the is otherwise minimal, though Hassan's role in the narrative is dominant. His death marks what Marrakchi refers to as "the end of an era," and in that sense opens a sort of pandora's box of emotional hang-ups and intrigue.

The death serves as the narrative locus around which the plot of the film revolves, and his funeral draws together the various threads of the plot in a buildup to the revelatory moment, which brings the film together. His death prompts the return of his three daughters to his spacious landscaped villa in Tangiers where his family and loved ones gather for three days to mourn his death.

The conflict of the plot plays out in the deceased's relationship with the various women who were in his life; his wife Aycha (whose role was played exceptionally well by Hiam Abbass), the housemaid Yakout (Raouia) and his daughters Miriam (Nadine Labaki), Kenza (Lubna Azabel), and the youngest, Sophia (Morjana Alaoui), whose return to Tangiers is fraught with her conflicting feelings towards her father upon his death. The gathering of these women situates the major struggles of the film, which subtly critiques the struggles faced by the women in finding their place between the conservative traditionalist expectations imposed on them and their own dreams and desires.

Various different conflicts play out in the three days of mourning, all of which take place against the backdrop of the suicide of the fourth sister, Laila, who committed suicide years before, and whose death casts a shadow throughout the events of the film. There are several moments in the build-up to the climactic reveal where one isn't really sure where the film is going, and were the conflicts in the narrative teeter on the edge of the cliche and the banal. Indeed, the film comes very close to predictability, even in its plot twist. 

However, in its unfolding, the film never fails to be poignant, entertaining and humorous, despite revolving around quite grim events. Aycha, the mother's character is fraught with contradictions and flaws, but her role in the denouement of the film, coupled with Abbass' powerful acting in a couple of scenes, introduces some much-needed cathartic relief at the end of the film following the revelatory climax.


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