- What Moroccan Cinema?: A Historical and Critical Study, 1956–2006
When it comes to interpretation, cinema is notoriously elusive as a cultural object. Films would seem to offer an immediately accessible window into a particular time and place. But films and filmmakers themselves are caught up in a complex network of economic, political, and creative forces. As students and scholars attempt to explain or understand movies and the culture they seem to transmit, however, they have only rarely found ways to put the various extra-textual forces acting on cinema into dialogue with careful analysis of the film text itself.
National cinemas of formerly colonized countries, such as Moroccan cinema, seem to provide a perfect window for understanding the particularity of life in countries fraught with contradictions in all these realms. Yet these cinemas have been even more difficult to account for without reducing out the complexity of their origins, audiences, and economic factors, which consistently implicate the relationship between former colonizer and post-colonial film industry, whether via funding sources, language choice, or the circulation of film among its public(s). And so, it is common to read rich analyses of individual films as art objects, more often by scholars of literature than not, in which the film “text” stands alone as an aesthetic object that may transmit to us sociocultural “meaning” if only we learn how to read it correctly. Such readings, however, tend to put the film in a hermetic hermeneutic box, protected from the messy economic and social worlds outside it. Film cannot be separated from the world within which it circulates.
Sandra Gayle Carter has taken up the formidable challenge of taking on Moroccan cinema caught between these multiple forces. Her magnificent book What Moroccan Cinema?: A Historical and Critical Study, 1956–2006 draws on a huge amount of research to give readers a rich context for understanding Moroccan cinema in its first 50 years since independence. In so doing, Carter provides a model for just what it would take to comprehend films from this nation without reducing out questions of funding, audience, changing social history, and the media worlds within which cinema always operates. And she does so without neglecting to provide readings of a substantial number of individual films along the way, regularly juxtaposing discussion of the film text with its reception and financial fate. Her comprehensive study is an invaluable resource for those who want to understand both individual Moroccan films in their historical context, and for those interested in the larger question of the place of Moroccan cultural production (including film, videos, media and — by extension — literature) in Moroccan society.
For Carter, the story of Moroccan cinema is one that moves from state patronage — as the Moroccan film industry gradually and belatedly detached from its French antecedents — to those individual film voices of the past decade (including Moroccan filmmakers resident outside of Morocco) who are less interested in providing a template for the Moroccan nation and more determined to represent contemporary, sometimes controversial, social reality. She balances snapshots of a range of Moroccan filmmakers and well selected individual films with wider-angle landscapes of the changing Moroccan film industry, the Centre cinématographique marocain (CCM), funding sources, and shifts in Moroccan aesthetics. Carter’s is a big book, comprehensive yet made approachable with many short sections, and with useful bibliography, notes, and a detailed appendix of films and filmmakers. Her four long chapters — with dozens of sub-sections — move us from pre-independence French filmmaking in Morocco to the recent controversy over Laila Marrakchi’s Marock (2005), and beyond. Preceding this trajectory is a long and important introduction that establishes the context within which Moroccan cinema operates and suggests Carter’s own nuanced way of reading film.
Appreciation of Moroccan cinema, as [End Page 490] Carter has us consider it, cannot ignore its relationship to the industry from which it emerges, the challenges of keeping cinema houses open and full, and...