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Marrakech presents ‘Henderson’

Frears stripper pic heads Moroccan fest lineup

MADRID — Stephen Frears’ “Mrs. Henderson Presents” and Enrico Oldoini’s childhood remembrance drama “Thirteen at a Table” will bookend the 5th Marrakech Intl. Film Festival. Both play out-of-competition.

Fest runs Nov. 11-19, boasting nearly twice as many films, 124, as last year, and two more days.

The Maghreb’s biggest sprocket opera was launched with the personal encouragement of Moroccan King Mohammed VI, a film buff. Put together by the Paris-based Le Public Systeme-Cinema, which also organizes the Deauville Fest, Marrakech sets out to demonstrate that Morocco can host a truly international event with no favors to either Morocco or France.

Fest tribs are determinedly eclectic: this year, Martin Scorsese, Moroccan vet thesp Hamidou, Spanish cinema, Bollywood helmer-producer Yash Chopra and Iranian artfilm deacon Abbas Kiarostami all have homages.

Fest competish has a small clutch of little-known pics: Spaniard Juan Vicente Cordoba’s “A Golpes,” a hard-hitting slice of ‘hood realism, Moumen Smihi’s ‘50s-set coming of-ager “El Ayel” and Syrian Mohammed Malas’ “Passion,” about female repression.

But the selection ranges far and wide: China, with two pics — Lu Chuan’s Sony-produced “Kekexili: Mountain Patrol,” about antelope poaching in Tibet, and Ning Hao’s nomad tale “Mongolian Ping Pong” — has more titles than Morocco, repped by just Moumen Smihi.

The U.S. also has two competing titles: Rebecca Miller’s father-daughter drama “The Ballad of Jack and Rose,” toplining Daniel Day Lewis, and Ramin Bahrani’s “Man Push Cart,” about a Manhattan coffee vendor.

Following its policy to push young talent, 10 out of the 16 competish helmers are first or second timers including France’s Jose Alcala, whose “Alex” won praise at San Sebastian for a telling characterization of its mannish heroine, and Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy, who deliver a tongue-in-cheek, mock silent pic, “The Iceberg.”

Fest sets itself up as a cultural meeting point and melting pot. Hardly surprisingly, some competish pics fuse cultural strains or cultures.

“Shadows of Time” has German Florian Gallenberger take on an Indian-style meller. Dane Henrik Ruben Genz’s “China-man” chronicles an arranged marriage between a Danish plumber and Chinese girl.

Directorial debs also include Brit Juliet McKoen’s psychological thriller “Frozen” and Ernest Abdyshaparov’s choral dramedy “Saratan,” set in a Kyrgyz mountain village.

Competish is rounded out by Czech Martin Sulik’s working class drama “The City of the Sun,” Aku Louhimies’ portrayal of disaffected Finnish youth, “Frozen Land,” and Canadian Oscar candidate “C.R.A.Z.Y.” from Jean-Marc Vallee.

French helmer Jean-Jacques Annaud chairs the jury.

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