Movie Review: Razzia (2018)
I kept hoping the various storylines of “Razzia” would come together in a way that felt meaningful and resonant and maybe even blew me away.
They came together anyway.
Everybody comes to Joe’s
Here are the main characters. Their stories occur in Casablanca, Morocco, in 2015, during economic unrest and protests:
- Joe (Arieh Worthalter), who drinks too much, fucks too much, cares for his aged father. He’s like the Jewish restaurateur version of Don Draper. The actor, bearded, is even reminiscent of Jon Hamm.
- Hakim (Abdelilah Rachid), a young gay kid who wants to be a singer, idolizes Freddie Mercury, is idolized by a younger sister, and is totally ignored by the father whose approval he craves.
- Ines (Dounia Binebine), a spoiled 15-year-old, mostly raised by her nanny, who secretly, and then not-so-secretly, loves a 17-year-old neighborhood servant girl.
- Salima (Maryam Touzani, also co-screenwriter, and a va-va-voomy Monica Bellucci lookalike), who discovers she’s pregnant and spends the rest of the movie recklessly weighing her options: marry her stuffy boyfriend; abort the baby; or leave Morocco altogether.
That’s for the present day. There’s actually one more:
- Abdallah (Amine Ennaji), a teacher in a mountainous village in the 1980s. He teaches the kids, who are rapt, in the local language until a powerful religious leader arrives demanding they use Arabic, which the kids don’t know, and fucks up everything. Abdallah tries to comply but eventually flees. In voiceover, he calls himself a coward.
The movie starts out as Abdallah’s. But once he flees, to Casablanca, he more-or-less disappears. His lover, Yto, follows, with her young, stuttering son, Ilyas, but never finds him, and older versions of the two become part of the other characters’ stories. Yto gives no-nonsense advice to Salima, while modern-day Ilyas is the sweet, dimwitted assistant to Joe. As Freddie Mercury is to Hakim, “Casablanca,” the Bogart film, is to Ilyas. He watches it all the time. He has it memorized. He believes his neighbor, who claims he saw Bogart and/or Bergman during its filming, when, c’mon, do the math. Most Hollywood movies of the period were filmed on Hollywood sound stages, and even if this one wasn’t? It was in the middle of World War II. North Africa was a battleground.
Of this group, I think I was most interested in Joe. I was concerned about anti-Semitic violence. He doesn’t suffer that, simply women abandoning him because he’s Jewish. He’s somewhat privileged (money, looks, charm) but not (Jewish in Casablanca). He feels the sting of constant rebuke.
I also liked Hakim, who often lies to his father to impress him. “Dad, my record was played on the radio.” “Dad, I got interviewed.” For a time, I actually bought the lies. Dad probaby didn‘t. Hakim also walks through a dusty town square, where kids taunt him, and police and/or Islamic fundamentalists shave the heads of men who ... I’m not sure. Have long hair? Are gay? They feel like “There before the grace of Allah” moments. It might as well be Hakim.
Here’s not looking at you, kid
So how do these stories intersect? On a night of protests and riots, Ines goes to a rich kid’s birthday party, which Joe and Ilyas cater, and where Hakim plays a musical instrument. The rich kids act douchey to the singer/dancer until Hakim snaps and beats the shit out of the birthday boy, whom Ines, trying to forget the girl she loves, had promised to sleep with. She laughs when the boy is beaten, Joe and Ilyas watch. In the aftermath, Joe tells Ilyas the truth: none of “Casablanca” was filmed in Casablanca.
As for Salima? Her story doesn’t intersect. That night, though, still pregnant, she leaves Casablanca. No Bogart, no Victor, no fog. No romance.
As for Abdallah? We finally see him. He’s still alive, watching the protests, staying indoors. He’s still not a courageous man. It’s Yto who’s out in the streets.
“Razzia” is close. It’s well directed and art-directed and acted. The stories simply don’t come together in a way that resonates.