An eminently watchable curiosity, “Goodbye Morocco” is a film noir set in contempo Tangier, written and smoothly helmed by Nadir Mokneche (“Viva Laldjerie”). Marking the Franco-Algerian filmmaker’s first genre outing, it rather pales in comparison with his three prior eventful tales of distaff ingenuity in the demimonde of modern-day Algiers. Nevertheless, “Goodbye” should say hello to further fest play offshore. Theatrical rollout in France and Belgium is slated for the first quarter of 2013.
Like most good noirs, the pic opens in the middle of a fraught situation and employs flashbacks to show how it came to be. Commandingly cutthroat Dounia (Lubna Azabal, “Incendies”), a Moroccan, has left her husband and lives with her younger lover, Dimitri (Rasha Bukvic), a Franco-Serbian architect who is overseeing a luxury property development. Dounia is in charge of human resources, which means she lays down the law to their work crew of illegal Senegalese immigrants who hope to earn some cash for their journey onward to Europe.
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Dounia’s punitive ex has custody of their young child, and makes it difficult for her to see him. There’s nothing she would like more than to snatch the boy and flee the country, but that requires money and connections that aren’t yet in her grasp. But if it were ever to happen, one can be sure her faithful-since-childhood factotum, Ali (Moroccan helmer Faouzi Bensaidi, “Death for Sale”), would be on the case.
When ancient Christian catacombs are discovered beneath the construction site, Dounia believes she can smuggle out and sell a tomb cover, thus coming up with the cash to solve her custody dilemma. If only Gabriel (Ralph Amoussou), the sole Nigerian among the African workers, hadn’t complicated matters by becoming a body for Ali to dispose of.
Practically drowning in deceit, Mokneche’s convoluted script spends too much time on such matters as the excavation of the site; the story would have benefited by further developing some of the main character relationships. Particularly undercooked is a twist related to Gabriel’s fling with a local cinema owner (Gregory Gadebois).
Thesping is fine without being showy, although one might wish that Azabal’s chilly femme fatale evinced more of the over-the-top charisma that Carmen Maura and Biyouna brought to the antiheroines of Mokneche’s earlier pics. It’s a particular pleasure to see cinephile Bensaidi (who acts mostly only in his own films) demonstrate a clear understanding of his role.
Craft credits are polished, with handsome widescreen lensing by Helene Louvart (“Pina”) capturing as much atmosphere as possible on a budget. Costumes for Azabal further ground the film in genre, as does the spot-on score from Mokneche’s regular composer, Pierre Bastaroli.