A carefully textured reflection on the conflicts embodied in contempo Moroccan society, “Burned Hearts” centers on a young architect who returns from Paris to his birthplace in Fez, hoping to settle accounts with his dying uncle and free himself from painful memories. Further proof of the richness and diversity of recent Moroccan cinema — now the second biggest industry in North Africa after Egypt’s — beguiling third feature by writer-director Ahmed el-Maanouni (“Trances”) won top prize at Tangiers’ national competish and was well-received at Dubai. More fest play looms.
Successful architect Amin (Hicham Bahloul) still nurses a grudge against his physically and verbally abusive ironsmith uncle (Az al-Arab Kaghat), who reared him as a near-slave in the forge until the intelligent lad struck out on his own. Amin’s bitterness has prevented him from moving on emotionally.
When he visits home for the first time in 10 years, Amin finds the sights and sounds of Fez’s artisans’ quarter spark flashbacks to his difficult youth. Amin’s childhood friend and protector, confident tile craftsman Aziz (Mohamed Marouazi), still works in the neighborhood but isn’t afraid to embark on a relationship with wealthy bourgeoisie Lalla (Nadia Alami).
Meanwhile, Amin flirts with restless Hourya (Amal Setta), one of Lalla’s employees, who yearns to flee from her brother’s strict patriarchal control.
Their stories cleverly interconnect with others in the district, from a vicious drug addict to a lunatic conman to Sufi philosopher Ba Jelloul (Mohamed Derhem). Appearances of Ba Jelloul bookend the B&W pic with color sequences.
Unfolding in circular rather than linear fashion, narrative contrasts present and past, B&W and color, traditional values and progressive thinking, artisans and bourgeoisie, drama and humor, and those who remain and those who leave. It also makes fine use of music rooted in the milieu, incorporating songs to comment on the emotional state of the characters.
Perfs are pitched between stylization and naturalism, with supporting players making the strongest impression. Standout tech credit is Pierre Boffety’s lustrous monochrome lensing (winner of the Dubai Fest’s prize for cinematography), which alluringly captures the atmosphere of the former imperial city — from the soak’s winding alleys, through the vast public square, to a commanding view from surrounding mountaintops. Per director, majority of story was shot in B&W so the esthetic experience of Fez wouldn’t overwhelm the tale.