The Rif Lover/L’Amante Du Rif

Par Robert K. Stephen le 18 mai 2012

Great films take a bit of time to digest and I am still digesting“The RIF Lover” (Amante du Rif) a Moroccan/Belgium/French production shot in Morocco in the RIF mountain range. The impression left by director Narjiss Nejjar is a rich portrait ofMorocco desperately trying to escape from an anti-feminist, tribal and patriarchal society with a nasty undercut  of Muslim fundamentalism way far off in the edge of the film. Thedisapproving burka clad women appearing in the early stages of the film like a ghost shaking her head disapprovingly at the behaviour of Aya and her best friend Raida dancing to ”western” music must be a comment by director Nejjar. We also hear riffs of Bizet’s Carmen from a video that Aya watches in a transfixed state. A hint of an impending tragedy?

rif.jpgWe first meet Aya in a dark room smoking a cigarette half her face in shadow the other in light and the story flashbacks 7 years prior to happier times with teens Aya and Raida playing on the roof of Aya’s house in a small Moroccan sea side town . The beautiful blue sky and the giggles of Aya and Raida are of short duration as Aya’s brother, seen riding around in a luxury black SUV with a group of thugs, pimps Aya off to his hashish exporting boss and ruling warlord in the area for a small plot of land where he can grow his own cannabis. The pimping brother feels no remorse so low is his regard for women whether they be his sister or not. We are left in an ambivalent mood as to whether Aya welcomes her raunchy encounter with the warlord.Although not so clear it would appear Raida is also pimped of to the warlord yet no one in Aya’s family actively condemns this behaviour. Aya’s mother prefers to take Aya to a clinic to have an artificial hymen inserted as without virginity upon marriage”a Moroccan woman is useless”. A sarcastic if not sad  comment on Morocco by director Nejjar where hymens are available for 24 hours, 48 hours or on a permanent basis and credit cards are accepted as in the film the “hymen is everything”. The divide between brother and criminal is non-existent. All men are bearded and wearing sunglasses and equally evil. Are Moroccan men in a Taliban inspired assault on feminist rights? Is there no difference between Afghanistan and Morocco in terms of their treatment of women?

Another comment by director Nejjar seems to be the absence of the traditional “leader” in the family as Aya’s remembrance of her father is some figment of the imagination who works the fishing boats in Spain and irregularly sends money back home. This places Aya’s mother in charge of the family who silently endures the pimp off of Aya and only the mother gains her dignity near the conclusion of the film where she savagely criticizes Aya’s pimping brother and tosses him out of the house. The other brother leaves to join his mythical father on thefish boats of Spain. The Rif area of Morocco may be beautiful but it is poor driving its inhabitants out of their country or to crime like her pimping brother who says, “ How do you think we get by…selling seashells?”. We see hashish being packaged for sale up in the mountains. It’s a big business in the area. It is clear that Aya recognizes her mother is a prisoner in a male dominated rural society when she tells her, “ I don’t want to live like you in the dark like you have been shut off.” Aya’s mother is fixated on marrying her off to a cousin hence the absolute necessity for an artificial hymen. About the only connection to any sort of reality by Aya’s mother is when she states, “ I never liked your father.” She also throws the pimping brother out of the house criticizing is lack of manly behaviour and decency.

Suddenly on the road to meet the cousin her mother proposes that she marries Aya is pursued by the warlord who pops Aya’s hymen again but gives her a ring . Aya is then strangely before magistrate and then thrown in prison. This event breaks the flow of the movie. Intentionally done or poor editing? In prison Aya meets a cast of memorable and quirky characters, lesbians treated as criminals, a women who had an affair that lead hergeneral husband to throw her into prison like a chattel, all victims of  an anti-feminist and anti-libertarian Moroccan society. An inmate remarks, “It’s crazy how many love bastards.” I reflect on the opening segment of the movie where Aya sings, “Love is a rebellious bird. It has never known the law.”

The movie ends in a fantasy of inmates all dancing to Carmen with their tough prison guard supporting this creative rebellion by having all inmates stamp their hand on posters which are delivered to the corrupt warden who treats the inmates like his personal harem. Aya is eventually discharged from prison and although her mother portrayed, by Nadia Niazi, delivers a tremendous performance, we gasp in frustration as she informsAya that her brother is returning from the fishing boats with a bridegroom for Aya. Moroccan society does not understand women and in fact the movie continually repeats the message that Moroccan society disdains them by their horrific treatment of women. The Thelma and Louise conclusion and the end of Aya portrays Morocco beyond repair…a society that imprisons its women, condones their rapes and drives them to their death. However the tiny ray of hope is that this film exposes the inner rot of a country. A wound either heals or it becomes infected.

Solid acting by the entire cast here. Wonderful shots of Morocco village life and countryside. Not uplifting and in fact damn depressing but as with so many non USA movies thought provoking. ( L’Amante du Rif/TheRIF  Lover, Director Narjiss Nejjar, France/Morocco/Belgium, 95 Minutes)

 

 

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