A visually ravishing tale of smoldering resentment in an all female village of prostitutes, “Cry No More” is (reportedly) the first Moroccan film at Cannes in 30-some years and marks debuting writer-director Narjiss Nejjar as a striking talent. Although pic comes close to sliding off the allegorical rails before its conclusion, core story is so powerful and boldly conveyed that it overcomes the wobbly finish. Pic’s healthy and historical feminist bent is pragmatic rather than theoretical.
Tangiers-born Nejjar brings her keen eye to bear on a contempo fact-inspired yarn so far removed from Western reality that it fascinates from the outset. Mina (Raouia), a former prostitute who was rounded up by authorities nearly 30 years ago and subsequently forgotten, is abruptly released from prison.
Former prison guard Fahd (Khalid Benchegra), now a bus driver, accompanies her to her Berber mountain village of Tizi, a strange enclave where “the only men who enter are those who pay.” The women who are too old to service men have retreated to astonishing cliff dwellings carved into the side of a steep mountain.
Mina’s daughter, Hala (Siham Assif), who was only 8 weeks old when her mother was arrested, is a permanently angry looker with a doll-clutching daughter of her own, Zinba (Rafiqua Belhaj), whose ritual deflowering is just around the corner. In order to break the shameful, destructive cycle of sexual servitude, Hala has declared that henceforth, all children born in the village be abandoned in local markets.
Fahd falls hard for Hala, who says her heart is withered and her eyes permanently dry. Mina doesn’t let on that she’s Hala’s presumed-dead mother, but her wizened contemporaries on the cliff recognize her.
Mina hatches a plan for reconverting the prostitute village into a noble outpost of vanishing Berber culture. But can decades of distress be wiped out through more respectable work?
Helmer demonstrates an assured belief in the raw power of stark visuals as formal compositions in stunning landscapes propel multi-generational saga of shame and hate. Each shot is gorgeously composed and no amount of CGI could rival the dignified majesty of natural settings in the Atlas Mountains.
Striking images include a patch of land “planted” with poles flying red cloths representing the veils of the virgins the local women will never be. Bitter yet beautiful Hala’s furious face speaks volumes, as do the wrinkled hides of the village oldsters.
Although first hour or so is dazzling, as pic unfolds, Fahd’s technique for dealing with his frustration is a bit over the top and emotionally wounded women recapture snippets of self-esteem with a tad too much alacrity considering the lives they’ve led.
Score is a thoughtful match.