ROCK THE CASBAH
When successful entrepreneur and businessman Moulay Hassan (Omar Sharif) dies, his family return to their home in Tangiers, Morocco to spend three days sharing their memories and grieving his loss, in accordance with Muslim tradition. However, sparks start to fly when prodigal daughter Sofia (Morjana Alaoui) jets in from New York. The youngest of three sisters, Sofia has made a new life for herself as an actress in America, but she only ever gets roles as terrorists on US TV. Her return provides the opportunity to settle some scores with her sisters, as the order once maintained by Moulay breaks down.
Review by Louise Keller:
The enigmatic presence of Omar Sharif as he gives a running commentary from the sidelines, is the best thing about Laila Marrakchi's film about secrets, lies and family feuds. The fact that the successful Moroccan businessman Sharif plays happens to be dead only adds to the mystique - it's as though he has at last risen above the scandal, bickering and angst, and plays the role of master of ceremonies with charm and aplomb. As for the secrets, lies and truths that seep from this family's Pandora's Box, there is nothing we haven't seen before, although Marrakchi's characters are diverse and well portrayed by a strong ensemble cast dominated by women.
The film begins and ends with an image of a stunning fig tree whose significance is revealed by film's end. Split into three segments, the first concentrates on 'the living', as the members of the dysfunctional family converge on the splendid Tangiers home, where Moulay's body lies in ice, waiting for the the burial. Tensions erupt from the outset as the widow, maid, brother and daughters express their frustrations about everything - from their personal problems, insecurities to the place of women in society and the clash of eastern and western cultures. The arrival from the States of Moulay's actress daughter Sofia (Morjana Alaoui) with her young son from her marriage to an American horror film director, is a catalyst for reflections and the stirring up of old taboos, including the truth about the suicide of her sister Leila.
The three ceremonial days of the burial, when tears are shed, religious rituals take place and traditional foods are shared, form the second segment. The third concentrates on plaiting all the story's elements and placing them on a sweet bed of resolution. There's a ride in a 71 black Mustang, a supermarket outburst about sex, cutting barbs between widow and maid and other explosive revelations. Outstanding performances by Hiam Abbass as the widow, Raouia as the maid and director/actress Nadine Labaki as Miriam, the beauty obsessed daughter for whom anything is never enough.
There's a strong sense of place as the Moroccan ambience with its tropical elegance, distinctive white buildings and panoramic ocean vistas are shown throughout. As for the squabbling and angst of the family members, it all rings true yet there is nothing unique or poignant enough to break our hearts. It is 82 year old Sharif alone who elevates the film, reminding us of his ever-present star quality and charisma, 52 years after the memorable Lawrence of Arabia and nearly 50 since Dr Zhivago.
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ROCK THE CASBAH (M)
CAST: Nadine Labaki, Morjana Alaoui, Lubna Azabal, Hiam Abbass, Adel Bencherif, Omar Sharif
PRODUCER: Stephanie Carreras
DIRECTOR: Laila Marrakchi
SCRIPT: Laila Marrakchi
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pierre Gantelmi d'Ille
EDITOR: Not credited
MUSIC: Robert Coudert
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Benoit Barouh
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Pinnacle Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 20, 2014