- Screening Morocco: Contemporary Film in a Changing Society by Valérie K. Orlando
Valérie Orlando’s last work, Screening Morocco: Contemporary Film in a Changing Society, is not a simple study of Moroccan films produced and distributed between 1999 and 2010. The book is also a wonderful overview of the development of the film industry in Morocco from colonial times until the present and as such, represents a valuable introduction for students and scholars interested in learning more about a vibrant and promising young cinema. Orlando’s choice of the time interval for the films she studies is justified by the drastic changes that have occurred in Morocco’s society since 1999, that is, after the death of King Hassan II and the end of what is commonly referred to as the “Lead Years,” an era of repression characterized by strong censorship, human right abuses, and the disappearance of thousands of political opponents and activists who were arrested, detained, and tortured in secret prisons. The films produced in the first decade of the new millennium, Orlando argues, reflect the magnitude of the cultural and socio-political change that has taken place in the country and constitute some of the most thought-provoking cinematic productions of the Maghreb today. Indeed, according to Orlando, contemporary Moroccan cinema is very much engaged in participating in, and thus, shaping the dialogue taking place in Morocco today around issues such as national identity, modernity, globalization, immigration, women’s rights and their place in society. While it is resolutely anchored in the present and definitely concerned with the future of Moroccan society, this cinema has also actively joined the national effort of recollection of the repressed memory of the recent past. Several films explore stories of human right abuses committed under Hassan II in order to make this dark and silenced chapter of national history known to citizens so that such atrocities can never be repeated in the future.
In addition to the thematic examination of the films she analyzes, Orlando retraces the development of Moroccan cinema as an industry and identifies some of the major problems filmmakers have to face when making a film. As in the case of Francophone West African cinema, the choice of language (whether Arabic, French, Berber, or any combination of the those three languages) constitutes a big hurdle since it has significant repercussions on audience reception both in Morocco and abroad, but also, on marketing and distribution, notably in Europe and North America. And while the language chosen for the film can be dictated by the film’s funding sources, it can also be a realistic consequence of the social classes represented in the story. The increasing number of films made by Moroccan filmmakers who live abroad and whose works are [End Page 177] considered by the Centre Cinématographique Marocain (CCM) as part of the national cinema raises other issues as imperative as that of the choice of language. For example, it begs the question of whether challenging socio-political and cultural norms and issues are better achieved when filmmakers are not subject to the state’s censorship since, even today, films cannot “overtly criticize the king and Islam” nor can they “promote themes that are pornographic” (xii).
It is not possible to understand the present-day Moroccan cinema industry without retracing its problematic colonial beginnings, declares Orlando in the introduction to her book. She then goes on to explain that unlike in Algeria, where France tried to erase indigenous culture, language, religion, and customs, the “oriental” character of Morocco was preserved, highlighted, and exacerbated as the country was imagined and constructed as “a vast theme park for the colonizers’ unfettered exploits” (4). Furthermore, in order to protect her authority from being challenged, France encouraged schisms and divisions between Arabs and Berbers and wrote a problematic history of the nation that accentuated such invented divides; literary and filmic productions portrayed a “fictional” country plagued by internal divisions, and whose perception of its fragmented identity would be kept and maintained by Hassan II so that his...