Thriller in the underbelly of Casablanca, western on the edge of the desert, apocalyptic road trip in the Atlas Mountains… Moroccan cinema is in the spotlight during the 20th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival (FIFM) , which runs from November 24 to December 2, with no less than fifteen films presented in its different sections, including two in the running to win the Golden Star. Time for consecration? Everything is possible.

In twenty years, no local production has yet received the anointing of the kingdom’s main event dedicated to the 7th art, but the FIFM comes to close a year during which Moroccan cinema distinguished itself. “Its particularly strong presence in theaters in France as in a growing number of countries, its favorable reception by critics, its good representation at major festivals – notably in Cannes where three films were awarded prizes – have given the opportunity to see the image of a cinema, certainly still relatively confidential, but in full vitality and capable of renewing itself”, observes Roland Carrée, teacher-researcher in cinema at the Higher School of Visual Arts (ESAV) in Marrakech.

New generation of directors

The films of 2023 are “among the best – if not the best – of Moroccan cinema,” believes Moroccan critic Bilal Marmid. This reflects the arrival of a new generation of directors who, alongside established filmmakers, have proven their mastery while bringing a new touch to both the subjects and the cinematographic treatment. »

Among the films in official competition in Marrakech, Les Meutes – Kamal Lazraq’s first feature film – tells the intense nocturnal epic of a father and his son, weighed down by a cumbersome corpse. It shows the popular suburbs of Casablanca as the cinema had never shown them: a black universe, lit by the glow of car headlights, “with its brutality, but also its solidarity, its tenderness, its beliefs”, describes the director 39 years old, native of Casablanca and graduate of Fémis (National School of Image and Sound Professions, in Paris). “I wanted to bring something authentic to this thriller,” he explains. The film is based on non-professional actors, close to the social environments portrayed, who enriched it with their experiences. »

Equally original, The Mother of All Lies, by Asmae El Moudir, also in official competition of the FIFM and chosen to represent Morocco at the 2024 Oscars. Between fiction and documentary, the film uses a unique cinematographic device to explore the non- so-called family riots and the deadly bread riots of 1981 in Casablanca. “For lack of traces of this past, I built my own archives with a model of my neighborhood, miniature houses, figurines, a sort of discussion laboratory where speech can be freed and erased memory restored,” says the young filmmaker also graduated from Fémis after studying in Morocco.

More universal and less miserable films

Common denominator of this new generation? “The desire, undoubtedly, to move towards different registers of social and realistic drama which has characterized Moroccan cinema since its beginnings in the 1960s,” observes Roland Carrée, “even if there were other attempts in the years 1970 and 1980 with poetic, demanding works anchored in Moroccan identity, but which did not really meet with success. These young filmmakers seem more inclined to enter genre cinema, with films that aim to be more universal and in a less miserabilist or folklorist mode than what we have sometimes observed. »

Reines, the feminist road movie directed by Yasmine Benkiran, is one of the best illustrations. Just like the science fiction story Animalia, by Sofia Alaoui, screened at the FIFM in the “special screenings” section and which depicts today’s Morocco from the unprecedented angle of the end of the world. “As Arab directors, we were often locked into somewhat conditioned expectations, with these same somewhat one-dimensional journeys of oppression and emancipation, as if our films had to necessarily show Europe how life is going on. misery of the world in our poor little Arab countries! », Estimates the 33-year-old Franco-Moroccan director.

Since 2012, the sector has experienced steady growth in its production to reach an average of twenty-five feature films per year, with an annual public production aid budget of 60 million dirhams (around 5.5 million dirhams). ‘euros). Moroccan cinema has also opened up to international co-productions. Several film schools have emerged, and the Ateliers de l’Atlas, the FIFM “workshop” initiated in 2018, have become for young directors “a decisive professional showcase which gives them international visibility and allows them to access financing”, underlines Asmae El Mudir.

Free yourself from established codes

“All this created emulation,” reports Kamal Lazraq. Many young people today dare to embark on an artistic career, because the conditions are right, but also because there were guides before us who inspired us, like Faouzi Bensaïdi. For me, he is an example that you can make sincere films while having a universal reach. »

Faouzi Bensaïdi will be awarded the Golden Star during the FIFM in tribute to his twenty-five year career. The 56-year-old Moroccan director will also present in “gala screenings” his feature film Deserts, a burlesque and mystical western which features the tragicomic duo of two employees of a collection company who travel the desert in costume to try to recover the slightest dirham or any means of payment (carpet, goat, etc.) from the villagers.

Is Moroccan cinema writing a new page in its history? “I would say that he has already experienced moments of rupture over the last twenty years,” says Faouzi Bensaïdi. Among my generation, we were several different individuals who, without forming an overall dynamic, sought to free ourselves from the established codes of Southern film. Today we are moving into a phase of more peaceful continuity, he observes, with the arrival of young filmmakers who go even further in this direction, who share the same desire to tell themselves as they are and to bring their own perspective on cinema itself, and that’s very healthy. »