She rubs her skin with lemon, almost scraping it, to remove the smell after a day of shelling shrimp at the factory. To detach herself from the conditions of an underpaid and ill-housed worker, she plunges into another life—the evening, during which the terms are reversed: “I do not steal, I am getting my refund. I do not burglarize, I am getting back my due. I do not traffic, I do business. I do not prostitute myself, I invite myself.” In voice-over, her words are expressed in slam—the same pace as her life, as her movements, as the camera that closely follows this rat race, as does the mis-en-scène that she shares with us. To survive is to charge headlong. Badia, the main character of Leïla Kilani’s On the Edge, recalls the young people in the film Microphone (2010), by Egyptian Ahmad Abdalla, the young Arabs who make revolution, having nothing to lose but a wasted life and everything to gain by going for it: “I’m already what I’m going to be. I am only ahead of the truth, my own.”
Kilani captures these young people on the edge. Her project is neither psychological nor sociological: it is not to be explained. It is on the surface, tactile—carnal, at skin level, but not superficial. It is a manner of showing that only in this way can one understand the current changes, that all communication will run against a wall, that these societies will lapse into violence if they do not provide a future for their youth. Badia, along with the other three girls with whom she prepares her evening capers, rushes headlong into the void. Her destiny can only be fatal. These young people, full of desperate energy, are on the verge of collapsing. They are on the edge, ready to jump.
This manner of radical directing and acting was necessary to capture this tension—shot with quick pacing, as close as possible to the body, a body that in order to escape confinement only thinks about making it through, [End Page 223] of getting by. The characters’ thirst for life is expressed as much by their unrestrained language as their actions. Factory workers by day, the young women search for men and ways to push the limits by night—surviving by day, living by night. Badia talks a lot and very quickly, only making coherent her headlong flight. Reflecting the cunning youth unencumbered by rules, she improvises daily life by ruses and circumventions, not as an escape, but rather as a plunge into the frenzy of life.
Needless to say, the tourist image of Morocco takes a hit, starting with Tangier, Kilani’s birthplace, a buffered city, for a twofold reason: it is the first contact point for car-bound travelers and the point of no return for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. It has been a while since Kilani has dealt with postcard stories. In Tanger, le rêve des brûleurs / Tangier, the Burners’ Dream (2002), she presented a personal perspective of Tangier, this physical, corporeal, sensual frontier, stirring with men and women who dream of a mythical somewhere that they cannot find on this side of the barrier. With Nos lieux interdits / Our Forbidden Places (2008), Kilani documented the restriction on speech and the internalization of political violence in Moroccan society on the occasion of the Equity and Reconciliation Commission established by the new king in 2004 in order to reconcile with victims of human rights abuses. With On the Edge she addresses these forbidden places, areas of appalling exploitation and lawlessness that swarm the planet and that are never talked about.
This disturbing and astonishing film, which scored at the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in May 2011, has the allure of rap-like urbanity and brilliantly combines the guts of the director and her actors, starting with the impressive Soufia Issami who gives her character Badia all her indomitable energy. With On the Edge, Le...