×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Horses of God

Four childhood friends from the slums are recruited by Islamic fundamentalists and turned into suicide bombers in Nabil Ayouch's affecting, strongly edited "Horses of God."

With:
With: Abdelhakim Rachid, Abdelilah Rachid, Hamza Souidek, Ahmed El Idrissi Amrani. (Moroccan Arabic dialogue)

Four childhood friends from the slums are recruited by Islamic fundamentalists and turned into suicide bombers in Nabil Ayouch’s affecting, strongly edited “Horses of God.” Based on a 2003 bombing in Casablanca, the pic delves into a shantytown atmosphere of machismo, wounded pride and powerlessness, which collectively act as a petri dish for fanaticism. By spending considerable time on milieu and the friends as kids, Ayouch sets his film apart, delineating personalities that avoid the cookie-cutter repetition seen elsewhere. “Horses” will trot confidently into Euro arthouses.

Sidi Moumen is a slum on the outskirts of Casablanca, a sprawling community on a bluff whose impoverished residents rarely if ever set foot in the cosmopolitan city at their doorstep. A soccer match between local kids quickly establishes later roles: Hamid is aggressive and fiercely protective of younger brother Yachine, whose best friend, Nabil, is frequently bullied. Yachine isn’t assertive enough to protect Nabil from homophobic taunts or his subsequent rape by another kid.

Home life for Hamid and Yachine is complicated: One brother is gone, another is unbalanced, their father has lost his mind, and their mother is a termagant who clearly favors Hamid for his assertive independence. Though he’s just a child, he’s also the breadwinner and the only real man around the house. As a teen, Hamid (Abdelilah Rachid) runs with a bad crowd, exerting a cocky authority that gets him thrown in the slammer for three years when he hurls a rock at a cop car.

While Hamid’s in prison, Yachine (Abdelhakim Rachid) emerges from his brother’s shadow, even secretly courting the sister of friend Fouad (Ahmed El Idrissi Amrani). Soon after 9/11, Hamid emerges from jail a changed man, now under the sway of Islamic fundamentalists whose power is growing in the community. Gradually, the seductive persuasion of Hamid and his fellow fanatics influence the others, and in 2003 the brothers, along with Nabil and Fouad, are selected to blow themselves up at a Casablanca watering hole.

The helmer spent considerable time in Sidi Moumen, and while the pic was shot elsewhere, Ayouch is clearly reproducing the charged atmosphere of the place, with its fractured hierarchies and its disturbing assertion of a brutal masculinity that cowardly victimizes anyone perceived as “soft.” Ultimately, the training and suicide mission are less interesting to Ayouch than the initial forming of character, and the fundamentalist cell members are only stock figures; what’s important is the group’s sense of disenfranchisement and the lure of inner peace.

Ayouch demonstrated his expert handling of children in sophomore pic “Ali Zaoua,” and he’s lost none of his touch in capturing their world with sober sympathy. Lensing is a standout, transitioning from free camerawork in the early scenes to more static shots in keeping with the rigidity of the fundamentalist mentality. Especially praiseworthy is Damien Keyeux’s editing, first noticeable during Nabil’s unsettling rape, intercut with shots of his mother dancing at a wedding, and climaxing at the very end, during the suicide mission. So good is the cutting, in fact, that the use of written-out dates to signal the passage of time feels unnecessary in the latter half and tends to break the flow.

Horses of God

Morocco-France-Belgium

Production: A Zaza Films (in Morocco)/Stone Angels (in France)/Cineart (in Belgium) release of a Les Films du Nouveau Monde presentation of an Ali n' Prods., Stone Angels, YC Aligator Film, Artemis Prods. production, in association with Les Films du Nouveau Monde, with the participation of Canal Plus, Cine Plus. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Nabil Ayouch, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam, Eric Van Beuren, Patrick Quinet. Executive producers, Frantz Richard, Marie Kervyn, Stephane Quinet. Directed by Nabil Ayouch. Screenplay, Jamal Belmahi, inspired by the novel "The Stars of Sidi Moumen" by Mahi Binebine.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Hichame Alaouie; editor, Damien Keyeux; music, Malvina Meinier; production designer, Hafid Amly, Hind Ghazali; costume designer, Nezha Dakil; sound (Dolby Digital), Zacharie Naciri, Eric Lesachet; assistant director, Said Rabii; casting, Amine Louadini. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 19, 2012. Running time: 117 MIN.

Cast: With: Abdelhakim Rachid, Abdelilah Rachid, Hamza Souidek, Ahmed El Idrissi Amrani. (Moroccan Arabic dialogue)

More Scene

  • Alfonso Cuaron71st Annual Writers Guild Awards,

    Alfonso Cuarón on Academy's 'Inevitable' Reversal on Televised Oscar Categories

    Alfonso Cuarón isn’t exactly surprised that the Academy reversed its decision and will now air all the Oscar categories during the live show on Sunday. Feb. 24. Calling the decision “inevitable,”Cuarón tells Variety that he thinks the Academy should take things even further. “Let’s stop calling them technical categories!” he told Variety on Sunday night [...]

  • SAN FRANCISCO, CA - February 16

    San Francisco Symphony Ushers in Chinese New Year With Glitzy Gala

    As legend has it: among the Chinese Zodiac’s 12 animals, the pig comes last because it was the final one to arrive to a party thrown by the Jade Emperor — lazy sauntering being a characteristic trait of the animal. The folktale was perhaps less fitting this past Saturday evening, as the San Francisco Symphony [...]

  • Marianne Rendon, Matt Smith, Ondi Timoner

    Robert Mapplethorpe Biopic Team Talks 'Fast and Furious' Filming

    Thursday night’s New York premiere of the Matt Smith-led biopic “Mapplethorpe” took place at Cinépolis Chelsea, just steps from the Chelsea Hotel where the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe once lived — but director Ondi Timoner had no sense of that legacy when she first encountered him in a very different context. “When I was ten [...]

  • Producer Mel Jones poses at the

    'Dear White People' Producer Talks Hollywood's 'Black Tax'

    “Dear White People” and “Leimert Park” executive producer Mel Jones is extremely familiar with growing up and watching “white men in all types of roles and never [seeing] ourselves as a part of those narratives.” Now, there may be some more opportunities for writers of color to tell their own stories, but, she notes, there [...]

  • Rebel Wilson Isn't It Romantic

    Rebel Wilson on Twitter Gaffe: 'It Was Purely to Lift My Fellow Plus-Size Women Up'

    “I obviously misspoke in that situation,” Rebel Wilson told Variety at the premiere of her latest film “Isn’t It Romantic” Monday, acknowledging the gaffe in which she claimed to be the first-ever plus-sized woman to star in a romantic comedy during an October appearance on “Ellen.” Following the comment, Wilson was met with criticism from Twitter [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content