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    Reader comments on Raja

    Subject: Re: a bad film
    Date: Apr 25, 2004
    Sender: Jean CharlesPrevious | Next

    I can only, and sadly agree with "peterT.'s comments. As a former Peace Corps volunteer living in Morocco, I was quite familiar with the situation of many of the women in the film, as well as the local "ex-pat" community of French and Germans. While this film did an exceptional job of capturing the complexity of language (60% of Arabic conversations are in "expressions"), culture, and bond between women, it failed to question or critique in any way this reality of exploitation. This film brought back a lot of sad memories of my stay there.

    Previous: a bad film | Next: Re: a bad film

    Respond to this message | Return to original article: Raja

    Response to this comment:
    a bad film

    This film suffered problems, the main one of which this review squarely identified: the unironic treatment of a relationship not just influenced by a skewed power dynamic, but defined and enabled by it. The filmmaker proceeds as if the relative positions of Raja and Doillon are simply an accident of history and birth which must be overcome as an „obstacleš standing in the way of „true love,š echoing Hollywood‚s Maid in Manhattan. The film never calls into question the „loveš that Doillon and Raja apparently share, as evidenced by their apropos-of-nothing asides (which is the only clue of such feelings), and never explores the ethics of seeking such a relationship, or likelihood that genuine regard could develop where so many things are working against it, including a language barrier. Rather, the „loveš is taken for granted by the filmmaker, and the film treats the apparently sad way that cultural differences, pride, and misunderstandings destroy a love. As the grumblings and stifled laughter that rippled through the NYFF audience indicated, this is a ridiculous premise. This may have been a suitable premise in the 1950's, when French colonialism was perhaps perceived by the French as benevolent and the white expatriot as some sort of iconoclast. Today, however, I think most people, especially people likely to see a film like Raja, understand that genuine loveŲrather than a relationship based on lust, exoticism, escapism, racial and class privelege, and gender imbalancesŲhas great difficulty developing in a milieu where power flows entirely to the white male conneisseur of the exotic, and the woman is mired in a culture of poverty and gender domination even before our white hero arrives on the scene. At any rate, a film treating such a love would surely dwell on the difficulties that both lovers would have to transcend the greater forces which would influence their perceptions and actions. That did not happen in Raja.
    Which is a shame, because the setup was rich: here was a woman in a state of total exploitation: orphaned, controlled by a boyfriend-pimp and an abusive brother, mired in poverty, forced into prostitution, and absolutely without the slightest control over her life. And the film admirably and skillfully did not portray her simply as a victim, an object of pity, but showed that she had a vitality and humor that helped her get through it all, despite instincts for self-destruction (like her devotion to her exploitative boyfriend). With this setup, the film was poised to make an excellent study of a woman with great natural strength be forced to contend with a new development, and new kind of exploitation: the attentions of an older, rich satyr. How would she react? Would she use this man as a lever of escape? Would she finally see that the attentions of the men in her life were strictly self-serving? Or would she surrender to the white‚s desires, becoming yet another male‚s instrumental object? Nope...none of this. Instead, we get to see what a cool, yet conflicted guy Doillon if we are to sympathize with his frustrated desire. And we get to see a Raja, who develops „feelingsš for this man, yet acts maddeningly ambivalent. In fact, her actions are completely inexplicable...probably exactly what the filmmaker desired, to keep her a distant, unexplainable exotic being...oh, the whims of dark women! Pretty repugnant stuff, on the director‚s part.

    Comment index:

  • a bad film   from Peter T., Oct 26, 2003
  • » Re: a bad film «   from Jean Charles, Apr 25, 2004
  • Re: a bad film   from bill, Jul 22, 2004
  • Re: a bad film   from Tohmm C, Jun 14, 2006
  • a good film   from emma, Feb 13, 2006
  • Not A Bad Film   from Paul S., Dec 21, 2006
  • the meaning of the movie   from Bill Strain, Aug 27, 2009
  • outside the box   from Jeanne, Sep 11, 2010
  • confusing...   from mrs.p, Dec 11, 2012
  • a bad film   from Peter T., Oct 26, 2003
  • » Re: a bad film «   from Jean Charles, Apr 25, 2004
  • Re: a bad film   from bill, Jul 22, 2004
  • Re: a bad film   from Tohmm C, Jun 14, 2006
  • a good film   from emma, Feb 13, 2006
  • Not A Bad Film   from Paul S., Dec 21, 2006
  • the meaning of the movie   from Bill Strain, Aug 27, 2009
  • outside the box   from Jeanne, Sep 11, 2010
  • confusing...   from mrs.p, Dec 11, 2012