Francs for nothing
"Raja," the story of a dissolute Frenchman who uses his money to exploit desperately poor Moroccan girls, is upsetting because it pretends to be about love.
By JOSHUA TANZER
Billed as a romance and study of adolescence, described in the French press as a story of "desire between two worlds," "Raja" is something totally different. Perhaps filmmaker Jacques Doillon himself was unaware of what kind of film he was making, but "Raja" is actually a study of power and naked exploitation. It's a rather upsetting movie, in fact, because every scene pretends to be about love but is really about violence unexpressed but understood.
We start with scenes of teenage girls in Morocco girls who seem innocent and carefree at first, but are actually rather worldwise and practical-minded. Finding work in the garden of a local Frenchman's villa for a few dirhams' pay, they giggle about the proprietor's lecherous attentions toward the new girl, Raja (Najat Benssallem). Within two days, the well-to-do middle-aged Frˇdˇric (Pascal Greggory) has given the 19-year-old a job on his grounds, which consists of pretending to work while he follows her around trying to kiss and fondle her.
|Written and directed by: Jacques Doillon.|
Cast: Pascal Greggory, Najat Benssallem, Ilham Abdelwahad, Ilham Abdelwahed, Hassan Khissal, Zineb Ouchita, Ahmed Akensouss, Oum El Aid Ait Youss, Fatiha Khoulaki, A•cha Aarif, Hajiba Firma, Jmiaa Aarif, Hanane Ben Jaddi, Samra Ben Arafa, Samira El Othmani, Abdellah Lamrani, Rachida Boukhima, Zineb Khoulaki, Fatima Zorha.
Cinematography: Hˇl¸ne Louvart.
In French and Arabic with English subtitles.
Related links: Official site
This film was Film Movement's selection for March 2004.
For more information, click here.
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New York Film Festival 2003|
Unspoken but always present, the power of money dictates everything that happens in this roller-coaster relationship. Raja dreams of the life of ease she'll lead if she can get the French playboy to marry her. Fred dangles dirhams (the equivalent of $10 or $20, usually) her way as an enticement. She responds readily because she has no alternative. She has been following the money all her life. This is a dance in which the almighty French franc is calling the tune.
I think writer-director Doillon finds Fred's decadence dashing. Europeans (as well as some Americans) are quite aware of their opportunities to live like kings in the former colonies, using their western currencies to buy luxurious homes, hire servants and even keep women for their pleasure, all at bargain prices. This legacy of colonialism, subjugation and economic exploitation underlies every transaction between Fred and Raja. Every advance these two make toward each other is a product of coercion, whether physical or financial. That's palpable in the film, and yet the "love story" is treated as genuine, the two characters as tragic romantic heroes. The filmmaker himself may well have internalized the values of colonization to the point of not even understanding when they are at work.
|OCTOBER 14, 2003|
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