Friday, November 15, 2013

Casablanca Mon Amour Movie Review

Here’s Looking at You, Hollywood
by Natalie Lylo (Contributing Editor)

John Slattery’s Casablanca Mon Amour is like a film, within a film, within a film. Slattery’s camera follows communications student Hassan and his friend Abdel, as they trace the path of Hollywood across Morocco. Their two-week journey (most of which is spent soliciting opinions from fellow Moroccans) showcases frequent clips and references to films set in their homeland, such as Casablanca, Ishtar and The Last Temptation of Christ.

Conceivably, this is all meant to add up to a glorification of Morocco, and a realization that Hollywood has skewed its depiction for one too many years. The film seems intent on presenting a Moroccan culture devoid of true art, after big, bad Hollywood captured and capitalized on it.

A great majority of camera time is spent in quasi-interviews, as the aspiring filmmakers ask various people what constitutes a great movie or favorite actor. Interview after interview breeds an identical set of answers—Rambo & Forest Gump, Tom Hanks & Chuck Norris. A big deal is made of Brad Pitt winning Best Actor at a Moroccan film festival. While it's understandably jarring that there's an utter lack of appreciation for Morocco’s own culture, it's hard to believe that this isn't mostly due to editing.

In fact, editing is a constant concern throughout the film. It seems to be fighting with itself on whether it's a documentary or a constructed storyline. The fuzzy shots, bouncy camerawork, and absence of much dialogue or plot seem to suggest it's Hassan’s documentary-esque school project. If this were truly the case, it would certainly feel more authentic—a Moroccan student’s quest to get to the root of a cultural issue.

This isn't the case however. It's Slattery’s film, not Hassan’s; and the former's heavy hand makes this well known. The film starts with “Once upon a time... " the classic fairytale headline. We then see Slattery’s actual casting call for the “roles” (more or less) of Hassan and Abdel. The Hollywood clapperboard interrupts several scenes; and we even hear voices off-screen inquiring about a “prop suitcase.”

During one lingering shot of the boys sitting on the Sahara Desert, chickens start waddling and squawking around them. It's a moment of seemingly genuine hilarity—until those behind the camera make themselves known again. We watch as cameramen chase the chickens, to ensure they fulfill a concocted role in the scene.

Casablanca Mon Amour does tackle an interesting and typically overlooked concept of Hollywood’s massive takeover of Morocco. It also showcases the country’s overwhelming beauty: Even brief, simple shots of landscapes seem surreal. There's also a unique blurring of many perspectives, and an overlap of past and present Morocco. But just as the film denounces Hollywood’s skewing of Morocco, it skews itself. It ends up feeling eerily similar to the slyly hollow movie sets at the featured Atlas Studios.