After a 22-year stint in Norway, helmer Nour-Eddine Lakhmari returned to his native Morocco at the end of the 1990s.
Since his return his TV and film projects have changed the country’s media landscape. He has staunch supporters, especially amongst young people, and also firm opponents, in particular amongst conservative quarters that consider his films to be alien imports into Moroccan culture.
Lakhmari’s 2009 breakout hit “Casanegra” clocked 241,000 admissions and was a game-changer for the local industry. Unlike most Moroccan films produced up to that time, it used Moroccan Arabic, Darija, and introduced elements such as extensive swearing, graphic violence and a biting criticism of Moroccan society, often hitherto usually more muted in national films.
His most recent film, “Zero,” played at the Marrakech and Dubai fests in December 2012; garnered five awards at the Tangier National Film Festival in February 2013, including best film and best actor; and won jury prize at the 2013 Tetouan Mediterranean Film Festival. Since its release in December 2012, it has generated more than 200,000 admissions.
Both pics were lensed by Italian cinematographer Luca Coassin and scored by New York composer Richard Horowitz.
Lakhmari will use the same team for his next project, “Burnout.” He has just completed the final shooting script and is now casting. Principal photography will commence in March/April 2015.
“Burnout” is set in the richer and poorer zones of the country’s largest metropolis – West and East Casablanca.
The story revolves around three main characters from different social backgrounds: A rich man who drives a Maserati through the streets of Casablanca; a 13-year-old boy who shines shoes in an attempt to earn enough money to pay for a foot prosthesis for his mother; and a young woman who is a student by day and a prostitute at night.
“Moroccan society is burnt out,” suggests Lakhmari. “People no longer have any time for each other. Society is indifferent to other people’s suffering. There’s widespread loneliness.”
“From the outside, Morocco is seen as a warm society,” he continues. “People see northern countries as being cold and southern countries as being warm, but they’re completely wrong. In reality, people here are fighting to exist, for their economic, social and spiritual survival.”
Lakhmari’s view of Moroccan society is inevitably shaped by the many years he lived in Norway. “In Oslo, there is a strong social system. People here are obsessed with superficial values and with money. They must have the latest car, the latest telephone.”
He recognizes that when Moroccans emigrate they want to find the “Old Morocco” upon their return. But he says that he accepts the country as it is. “I’m not scared about change, and I’m not looking to bring back old values,” he says. “But I do miss how tolerant we were with each other, especially with poor people. Now we have become indifferent. This shocks me and hurts me.”
Lakhmari acknowledges influences from Italian neo-realism and directors such as Martin Scorsese. In the 2013 edition of the Marrakech Film Festival he was the president of the Cinecoles short film competition, while Scorsese was the president of the main jury.
He believes that Moroccan cinema is seeing a growing maturity and is capable of tackling many taboos, but nonetheless believes that there continue to be complex areas. “Sexuality, homosexuality, nudity have all been shown on the screen. What you really can’t touch is religion – that’s the ultimate taboo.”
Lakhmari will co-produce the pic with Norwegian production house Filmhuset and has secured a $0.5 million grant from the Moroccan Cinematographic Center (CCM).
In 2014 Lakhmari also helmed the short “Black Screen,” starring former CCM prexy Nour-Eddine Sail and written by Sail’s wife, Nadia Larghuet. The film’s poster includes an empty director’s chair and was viewed by some as an expression of the concern within the Moroccan film industry that Sail’s departure would lead to a new period of censorship.
“When the competition for a new CCM director was announced, everyone was scared,” explains Lakhmari. “Nour-Eddine Sail has been a key figure in supporting Moroccan cinema, especially urban and free cinema.”
However Lakhmari’s fears dissipated when the new CCM prexy, Sarim Fassi Fihri. was announced. “Sarim produced my first film and gave me my first chance after I came back from Norway,” he says. “He’s moderate and progressive. He comes from production, has an extensive C.V., has worked with foreigners and watches cinema. He will defend Morocco’s new cinema.”