Working with a tight budget and in a language he doesn’t speak, journalist-turned-helmer Hicham Ayouch succeeds in crafting a handsome, involving, universal tale of loss and the struggle between a stalled present and a hopeful future. “Heart Edges” plays like an elemental fable, reminiscent of 19th-century stories that could just as easily be set in New England or Brittany, recast in a Moroccan fishing village stagnating from the loss of its menfolk in a tempest. With its simple but refined lensing and balanced storytelling, pic should find fest champions.
Pic was originally developed in Arabic, but funding came through just when Morocco declared a percentage of national productions must be in the Berber language Tamazight. A quick translation, and presto-chango script fell into line with the new regulations, lending an air of exoticism for foreign viewers that might actually help international sales while taking nothing away from pic’s power or crew’s skills.
A decomposing arm washes ashore near an isolated fishing community. Immediately the limb is claimed by a score of women, all convinced it belonged to their father, husband or son drowned in a storm seven years earlier. Juxtaposed against the color and noise of these half-crazed villagers is the solitary black-robed figure of Naima (Fatima Bikourkare), who silently carries the arm back home, where she dresses it tenderly and guards it against the claims of the others.
Only in the retelling does the scene sound macabre; one of Ayouch’s strengths is his respect for his characters, combined with a straightforward lensing style that feels influenced as much by classic illustrated books as by other films.
Few men remain in town: Amghar (Abdellah Aourik) is the elderly village chief raging against the torpor that settled over his home, telling tall tales about the deceased fishermen to the handful of local children while hitting the bottle at night. The one hope is the strappingly handsome Daoud (Mustapha Ait Ali), an orphan obsessed with the sea who spends his days secretly designing boats and his evenings tending to a makeshift lighthouse.
Naima, widowed and childless after the fateful storm, adopts Daoud, but for the young man the siren call of the sea is too strong, forcing him to choose between Naima’s comforting protection and his seafaring dreams.
Grounding the film with her quiet display of acting chops is Bikourkare, who fills her scenes with an all-encompassing sense of loss beyond the rage and clamor of the other village women. Chief among the mostly nonprofessional cast, Ait Ali’s openness is wellsuited to Daoud’s innocence, operating in that limbo between youth and manhood where dreams springboard the spirit away from the coddles of home.
Shot in just 11 days, pic shows off the painterly eye of both Ayouch and d.p. Joel David, who exhibit an enormous sensitivity to color and composition, all attuned to the fundamentals of storytelling at its core. French title, “Les aretes du coeur,” translating roughly as “Fishbones of the Heart,” is more apt and poetic than the meaningless “Heart Edges.”