Faouzi Bensaidi's third film, Death for Sale, despite some mixed reviews, has been a festival success. After premiering at the Toronto Film Festival and closing the Marrakech Film Festival, it is now set to play in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival.
With all the conflicts and feelings of dissatisfaction portrayed in the film, it's impossible to watch it without thinking of the Arab Spring, yet the film was conceived before its advent. As Bensaidi explains, "I did this film before the movement, but I hope the film could show something about it - how people could either be seduced by fundamentalists or become revolutionary and change the world."
Death for Sale is set in Tetouan in the north of Morocco. The city is described by Bensaidi as... "a prideful, abandoned, wounded northern town in which violence and trafficking are present alongside an ever-increasing fanaticism. It's the ideal location for a dark, violent film with a thread of warped humour".
It was especially moving for Bensaidi to shoot the film in Tétouan because that was where he grew up. "It was emotional, filled with nostalgia and memories," he says. "The relationship with spirituality is also something that interests me a lot," says Bensaidi. "I don't want to just tell what is good and bad, what is right and wrong. I want to talk about the madness, the impossibility of situations."
"I want to portray Morocco in the present time to tell the world that our country is also modern. For years, the only image we see of Morocco is the same traditional images of men and women."- Bensaidi
The tale centers on petty thief Malik (Fehd Benchemsi), 26, who pals around with aggressive, drug-dealing ex-con Allal (Fouad Labiad), 30, and fleet-footed pickpocket Soufiane (Mouchcine Malzi), 18. Malik's mad passion for high-priced prostitute Dounia (Imane Mechrafi), rendered in sensual, ultra-romantic, narrative-stopping images, wreaks havoc on his life and other relationships.
The three young men decide to rob a jewellery store. They are among the hopelessly unemployed street population of Morocco’s provincial cities, common thugs in the eyes of many but bound by solidarity and friendship. They see the heist as a means to break out of a cycle of poverty that weighs on their destiny like a life sentence.
Malik wants start-up capital to help rescue Dounia from a life of prostitution and make a new future for them as a couple. Allal, the toughest of the three, wants fast cash to stake a solid entry into the business of drug-smuggling. Impish high-school dropout Soufiane, the youngest of the group, has his own motives for wanting to kill the jewellery store owner. But the plan goes awry and the men’s destinies splinter.
He has directed the feature films A Thousand Months (2003), WWW. What a Wonderful World (2006) and Death For Sale (2011).
In between making films, Bensaidi likes to work in theatre. He says theatre is less frustrating than cinema. "I spend two to three years writing, searching for locations, actors and all these things to make a film. I lose something in cinema that I find in theatre - when I returned to theatre two years ago after a 10-year absence, I was so happy because I could rehearse with the actors," he says. "And because of the lack of financial burden it is easier to take risks."
Bensaidi also acts in his own films. He says of his dual roles: "Yes, it's a little bit more work, but I consider it to be like a musician who, when they are playing, has to sense if the music is good or not. It gives me another string to the bow. So when I'm behind the camera I can feel for the actors, too. I don't understand why more filmmakers do not direct and act, like Charlie Chaplin."
The Variety Review
The grippingly realistic digressions into Malik's family life and the fundamentalist training camp in the hills make for far more compelling viewing than the stylized noir theatrics of the crime-caper story strand.
While Bensaidi's tinkering with genre conventions worked well as part of the self-conscious artifice of "WWW," it proves disruptive here. Raw acting from the four young newcomers playing the marginalised outsiders lacks the focused energy and charisma that would enable them to nail their parts or make viewers care about their characters. By contrast, the alluring, technically rigorous craft package has Euro polish.
Camera (color), Marc-Andre Batigne; editor, Danielle Anezin; music, Richard Horowitz; production designer, Itaf Benjelloun; costume designer, Nezha Rahil; sound (Dolby Digital), Patrice Mendez, Gert Janssen, Luc Thomas. Running time: 117 MIN.