More news from the world of film. For this story we turn our attention, not to Cannes or Hollywood, but the beautiful town of Assilah here in Morocco. South of Tangiers, Assilah, is a favourite holiday spot with good beaches and a colourful history. From a local tower, prisoners were once thrown onto those rocks by El Rassouli, the Berber chief played with an oddly Scottish accent by Sean Connery in "The Wind and The Lion." The tower and fortress now host an annual art festival.
It is here, in Assilah, that the veteran British filmmaker Barney Platts-Mills has been living and working since 2000. Back in the 1960s he was known for his involvement in the free cinema movement in the UK but it is 27 years since his 1969 film Bronco Bullfrog got an outing at Cannes. Since 2000 Barney has involved himself in his new community and founded the Ecole de Cinema de Larache to train young Moroccans in cinema.
When Barney Platts-Mills announced he was to make a new movie, opinion was divided as to his ability after such a long break from directing. Inspired by the family he lived with he scripted Zohra, and then recruited the entire village into the production of the film. The film is now out and the critics' fears have not been realised.
The film is Zohra: A Moroccan Fairytale, an evocative and gentle love story-cum-magical fable, set against the backdrop of modern-day rural Morocco.
Zohra (Touba Noro) is a 14 year-old village girl in Morocco who starts to question what she wants from life when her father starts to pressure her to marry a wealthy older man. She meets 17 year-old runaway (Said Bekurrie), who is hiding in the village before planning on taking an illegal boat to Spain, and he offers her romance, adventure and the possibility of a new life in another country.
A storm interrupts the plans to escape, and the young couple enjoy an refreshingly innocent fugitive love affair, though as time draws on Zohra begins to realise her loyalty to her village and homeland are stronger than a desire to escape.
The performers are all amateurs – Touba Noro was actually the village girl who was the inspiration for the film, and Said Bekurrie is a runaway street kid from Tangier who has begun to establish himself as a dance talent – which gives the film a suitably naïve and fumbling quality, nicely counterbalanced by Martinez Fulgencio’s delightful cinematography and the clear love for the landscape that is obvious in they way Barney Platts-Mills films.
It is a slight but nicely subtle tale (with an unexpected brief coda at the end of the film) that is not without a certain fairytale charm. Touba Noro is a real charmer, and the charismatic centre of this engaging film.
And while on the subject of films... Morocco made a real impact at Cannes with the appearance on the red carpet of Director Radu Mihaileanu with the cast of his competition title The Source alongside more than a dozen women from Warielt, the small Moroccan village where the film was shot.
The Source takes place in a fictional village somewhere between North Africa and the Middle East where women fetch water from the top of a mountain under the scorching sun. One day, a young woman urges the women to launch a “love strike,” namely a boycott on sex and affection until the men start running water into the village. The film stars a trio of France’s most promising young actresses Hafsia Herzi, Leila Bekhti and Sabrina Ouazani.