(In Dutch, Arabic and French.)
Expanding on themes explored in her prior fiction and nonfiction shorts, Fatima Jebli Ouazzani’s debut feature neatly combines staged segs, diarist elements and docu observation to delve into the strict Moroccan gender roles that she fled some years back. Handsome, provocative package won limited theatrical release at home in the Netherlands. Offshore, it’s a possible tube item, and good bet for specialty programmers interested in multicultural and women’s issues.
Nearing 40, Ouazzani hasn’t spoken to her father in 16 years – not since the day she left home, violating all traditional expectations of the cloistered life of subservient wife-and-motherhood. Now living in Amsterdam, she remains haunted by the road not taken. Since both her grandmother and (now dead) mother were married off at 14, not at all happily, the choice seems right. But being viewed as “spoiled fruit” by her native Islamic culture still troubles her. “A deflowered (out of wedlock) woman is like yesterday’s couscous – it turns my stomach,” says her grandpa in a typical statement.
Latter is still locked in daily combat with helmer’s grandmere; they’ve been driving each other crazy (and possibly enjoying it) for the better part of a century. These amusing interview segs show the downside of a for-better-or-worse marriage contract.
As hopeful contrast, Ouazzani follows Naima, a chic young Netherlands-born woman who nonetheless has chosen to go the full, traditional route in her upcoming nuptials. She and her husband-to-be make a photogenic pair, especially in the rather lavish climactic wedding ceremony (held in rural Morocco).
A major focus is on the obsession with women’s “purity,” particularly as demonstrated by the bride’s bloodstained wedding-night sheets (duly bandied about in public the next day). Yet as various medical experts attest here, many virgins do not bleed when deflowered – so depending on such “proof” is specious at best. Then, of course, there’s the larger issue of why women must be held to such standards at all, while men are hardly expected to enter marriage sans “experience.”
Brief, staged sequences are effectively interspersed to illustrate helmer’s childhood in the “old country.” Most dramatic bit is one in which a terrified bride is chased down alleys by a mob – she’d failed to spill that blood “evidence” of chastity.
Pic abstains from outright condemnation, gracefully cutting between Dutch and Moroccan locales, color lensing capturing the ritual beauty as well as distastefulness of certain age-old traditions. Other tech aspects are first-rate.