Visual playfulness overtakes plot interest about three-quarters into "WWW, What a Wonderful World," but helmer Faouzi Bensaidi's deliciously choreographed images and droll performances keep attention from wandering too far. Limited Francophone play is probable, though chances are slim beyond the fest circuit.

Visual playfulness overtakes plot interest about three-quarters into “WWW, What a Wonderful World,” but helmer Faouzi Bensaidi’s deliciously choreographed images and droll performances keep attention from wandering too far. Set in a contempo Casablanca of vast contrasts, tale of a hit man falling for a traffic cop’s voice covers the genre map while never taking itself too seriously, allowing for subtle comments on love, disillusion and today’s Morocco to slip in almost without noticing. Limited Francophone play is probable, though chances are slim beyond the fest circuit.

Bouncy opening credits, graphically and musically inspired by Saul Bass and the Bond films, create instant smiles, as do the witty intros to the various characters. Kenza (Nezha Rahil) is a tough, self-confident traffic cop who makes extra cash by charging neighbors to use her cell phone. Best friend Souad (Fatima Attif) earns her spare dough by occasional prostitution.

Souad’s favorite client is Kamel (helmer Bensaidi), a stone-faced hit man whose assignments come via the Internet. Like her neighbors, Souad has no phone, so Kamel’s calls are directed to Kenza’s cell, where Kamel and Kenza’s chats turn into poetic conversations on love and loneliness.

Meanwhile, a hacker named Hicham (El Mehdi Elaaroubi) stumbles upon Kamel’s hit list and decides to journey to Rabat to witness a hit. Pic’s deadly serious ending comes as a shock after the generally wry and upbeat tone, reminding auds that these people live on a potentially precarious edge.

Though the characters are representative of different aspects of Casablancan life, they don’t feel cut from the same cloth: Even Hicham, a young man longing to leave Morocco (hardly a new subject in North African cinema), is conceived with originality. However, episodic elements don’t always integrate well, and concentration tends to focus more on inventive images than genuine social commentary.

Perfs are a pleasure, from the versatile Attif, performing a chirpy, 1950s’ inspired dance with her cleaning appliances, to Rahil’s fierce yet vulnerable Kenza, a far cry from her role in Bensaidi’s debut “A Thousand Months.” The helmer himself makes an especially amusing, even appealing murderer, his shallow-eyed deadpan (particularly when framed in one scene by an incongruous blonde wig) a worthy successor to Buster Keaton.

As in his previous pic, Bensaidi favors off-center compositions, taking full advantage of the widescreen in the way he leisurely moves people from one side to the other. Anything he can choreograph, from crowds to buses, signals a chance to play, matched by a keen eye for contrasts in color and lighting. Music is nicely calibrated to each section and mood.

WWW, What A Wonderful World

France-Morocco-Germany

Production

A Gloria Films (France)/Agora Films (Morocco)/Heimatfilm (Germany)/Soread 2M (Morocco)/ ZDF, Das kleine Fernsehspiel (Germany) co-production, with the participation of ARTE. (International sales: Les Films du Losange, Paris.) Produced by Laurent Lavole, Isabelle Pragier, Souad Lamriki, Benedicte Bellocq, Bettina Brokemper, Johannes Rexin. Directed, written by Faouzi Bensaidi.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Gordon Spooner; editor, Bensaidi, with the collaboration of Veronique Lange; music, Jean-Jacques Hertz, Francois Roy; production designer, Majid Lahouass; costume designer, Asmaa Rehihil; sound (Dolby Digital), Patrice Mendez, Tobias Fleig; assistant director, Samuel Girardin. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Venice Days), Aug. 30, 2006. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Nezha Rahil, Faouzi Bensaidi, Fatima Attif, El Mehdi Elaaroubi, Mohammed Bastaoui, Hajar Masdouki. (Arabic, French dialogue)
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