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Rock the Casbah - Film Review

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by Fiona Anderson (subscribe)
A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
Published November 20th 2014
Clever direction in this drama from Laila Marrakchi
Rock the Casbah, a French/Moroccan film collaboration, uses the death of a patriarch, Moulay Hassan (Omar Sharif), as the context for a family reunion. The deceased's widow Aicha (Hiam Abass) and their daughters - Sofia (Morjana Alaoui), Miriam (Nadine Labaki) and Kenza (Lubna Azabal) - gather at the stately home in Tangiers (a coastal city in northern Morocco) for the formal Islamic three days of mourning, during which the family is expected to receive visitors and condolences, and must avoid wearing elaborate clothing or jewellery.

To varying extents, the three daughters have grown away from the family's traditionally Muslim way of life.

Rock the Casbah
Rock the Casbah opens nationally on 20th November

The mourning period proves most difficult for Sofia, the youngest of the three sisters and perhaps the strongest character in this film, as we learn that not only has she grown furthest from the Muslim traditions of her family (living and working as an actress in New York), but also that she carries resentment towards her father for his perceived contribution to an earlier family tragedy.

Rock the Casbah
Returning to a traditional setting is hardest for Westernised Sofia (Morjana Alaoui)

However, none of the sisters seem particularly comfortable with the societal expectations placed on them, each displaying behaviours that would surely raise a few eyebrows in such a conservative setting. The two older sisters' initial disapproval of Sofia softens as they relax in each other's company, and there is a realisation that perhaps they are not so different after all.

Rock the Casbah
Widowed Aicha and her three daughters come together to mourn the death of the family patriarch

An interesting side story involves the relationship between Aicha and housekeeper, Yakout (Raouia). The daughters are stunned to learn that Aicha has ordered Yakout, who has been with the family for many decades, to leave the house after the mourning period is over; the decision seems harsh. We subsequently learn of the reasons for Aicha's decision, however.

The film is commentated in part by Omar Sharif as the deceased, providing some light relief along the way. I enjoyed the gentle, surreal interactions between Sharif and his grandson, Sofia's young son.

Rock the Casbah
Omar Sharif plays an interesting cameo role

Rock the Casbah is written and directed by Moroccan filmmaker Laïla Marrakchi, who is perhaps best known for the controversial film Marock. Rock the Casbah was screened in the Special Presentation section at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.

While the film is not overtly feminist, Marrakchi appears to be indicating a level of discontent by women about their role and society's expectations of them.

Rock the Casbah is described as a drama, but it is tinged with humour. The story develops gently but steadily, providing an insight into Moroccan culture, and an engaging study of family dynamics. The three sisters, particularly, are well cast and play strong, convincing roles.

Rock the Casbah is tightly and cleverly directed, and overall, a pleasure to watch. The occasional flash of some beautiful Tangiers scenery is an added bonus.

Some scenes will probably tug on the heartstrings, and it's not a movie I'd recommend if you've recently lost someone close.

Overall, I'd rate Rock the Casbah 3½ stars out of 5.

Rock the Casbah screens from 20 November 2014. It is rated M and contains nudity and sexual references. The running time is 100 minutes. The script is in French and Arabic, with English subtitles.

Watch the official trailer here:
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Why? A beautifully directed drama exploring the relationships between family members after the death of the family patriarch.
When: From 20th November 2014
Where: In cinemas across Australia from 20th November 2014
Cost: Check with the venue you're attending for ticket prices.
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