You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Pirates of Sale’

This inspiring documentary balances human interest with exciting, handsomely lensed circus acts.

Alain Laeron, Guillaume Bertrand, Abdelali Khobba, Imad Baamar, Ghizlane El Hlimi, Jawad Touinssi. (Arabic, French dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4172288/reference

Upbeat yet realistic, “Pirates of Sale” is an inspiring documentary about Morocco’s Cirque Shems’y, a big-top outfit with school attached that caters to the country’s underprivileged youth. Co-helmers Merieme Addou and Rosa Rogers follow students as they go through auditions, training, and performance, showing teachers encouraging independent, socially progressive thought among teens never exposed to acrobatics, let alone feminism. The genuinely exciting numbers (think Cirque du Soleil) are handsomely lensed without taking away from the human-interest stories, resulting in an appealing fest item that should also see life in European broadcast.

Sale, a city bordering Rabat on Morocco’s coast, was famed for centuries as a pirate stronghold, but more recently has a reputation for unsafe neighborhoods and poverty. The circus and the National Circus School were founded to offer an alternative narrative to teens too easily sucked into a downward spiral of life on the streets. Run by Frenchman Alain Laeron, Cirque Shems’y holds open auditions, during which instructors look for talent that can be coaxed from kids not used to imagining a life in the performing arts. Especially for young women, who generally leave school by 16 and wait for marriage, the circus holds out the hope of independence through self-realization.

“Pirates of Sale” mostly follows four teens in various stages of artistic development. Hajar, 15, was living on the streets before she auditioned; Ghizlane has a family, but the circus offers a necessary escape from a bleak future with her unsupportive, critical mother. For Abdelali, one of 11 children, and the prodigiously talented Imad, the training they receive under charismatic director Jawad Touinssi and then Guillaume Bertrand pushes them to explore physical and psychological boundaries. The goal is to incorporate life experiences into the shows, not just under the big top (strikingly erected in an old fort on the beach) but also during the citywide festival amusingly named “Djinn Tonic,” in which top students perform solo and group acts throughout city locations.

As to be expected, there are moments of uncertainty, some doling out of tough love, and occasional disappointment. What’s perhaps more surprising is the way the teachers, Western and Moroccan, push their charges to question not only their physical limits but also the societal strictures holding them back. Along with increased self-expression, the teens are encouraged to weigh culturally conservative custom against more liberal Islamic thought, even opening the door to secularism. “This is a school of life before it’s a school of art” becomes an accurate summation of the Shems’y philosophy.

Even after graduation, there’s no guarantee of success, and opportunities are severely limited for those who choose to remain in Morocco. Yet Addou and Rogers nicely capture the hopes of kids largely raised without options, and auds will inevitably root for these talented performers while enjoying their impressive regimens. Rogers, as d.p., demonstrates a skilled hand with attractive images that capture the locale as well as the acts, and Jane Harris’ editing nicely juggles the stories with the semester’s trajectory.

Film Review: 'Pirates of Sale'

Reviewed at Abu Dhabi Film Festival (competing), Oct. 29, 2014. Running time: 82 MIN.

Production: (Documentary – Morocco-U.K.-France-U.A.E.) A Redbird Prods. production with the participation of Sanad. Produced by Hilary Durman, Merieme Addou.

Crew: Directed, written by Merieme Addou, Rosa Rogers. Camera (color), Rogers; editor, Jane Harris; music, Andy Cowton; sound (5.1), Addou, Pip Norton.

With: Alain Laeron, Guillaume Bertrand, Abdelali Khobba, Imad Baamar, Ghizlane El Hlimi, Jawad Touinssi. (Arabic, French dialogue)

More Film

  • Guillermo del Toro Alec Baldwin Tribeca

    Guillermo del Toro on Why It's a Director's Duty to Always 'Exceed the Budget'

    Guillermo del Toro has some advice for directors that would leave most studios shaking. “As a director, it is your duty to always responsibly exceed the scope and exceed the budget,” he said. “If you have enough time and enough money, you’re f—ing up.” Del Toro dropped that bit of wisdom during a chat with [...]

  • Michael Hutchence

    Film Review: ‘Mystify: Michael Hutchence'

    “Mystify” — a portrayal of charismatic INXS singer Michael Hutchence, who committed suicide in 1997 at the age of 37 — makes powerful use of family and personal footage to tell the story of a talented man beset by personal demons, but illuminates the influence of a serious head injury that he hid from the [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Harvey Weinstein Sex Crimes Case: Judge Bars Media From Hearing

    Harvey Weinstein’s Friday court hearing in his rape and sexual assault trial will be closed to the media and the public, New York Supreme Court Justice James Burke ruled. The issue of whether or not the movie mogul’s latest court appearance will remain public has been hotly contested in recent weeks. News organizations such as [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame' Soars to Record-Breaking $60 Million Opening in North America

    Disney-Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” has opened astronomically in North America with a record $60 million in Thursday night preview showings. It’s the top domestic preview number of all time, besting “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” at $57 million in 2015. Imax showings scored brought in $4.8 million at 412 locations, the third-highest total of all time. [...]

  • Sophia Anne Caruso and Alex Brightman'Beetlejuice'

    'Beetlejuice' Musical Team Hopes to Attract New Audiences to Broadway

    In the new Broadway adaptation of Tim Burton’s 1988 cult classic film “Beetlejuice,” teenager Lydia takes center-stage alongside the titular gut-busting demon (Alex Brightman) to reflect the famed goth girl’s journey through Beetlejuice’s funhouse of death and disaster. “I think so many people connect to “Beetlejuice” because it’s a story of outsiders, Lydia being the center of [...]

  • Chris Hemsworth'Avengers: Endgame' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    Is Chris Hemsworth Ready to Leave the 'Avengers' Franchise?

    Chris Hemsworth isn’t exactly sure when he’ll leave the “Avengers” franchise. “There will come a day,” the “Thor” star told me when we sat down to chat for the second episode of “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s new film podcast. “Whether it’s now or in the future, I don’t know…Who knows what the sort [...]

  • Michael B. JordanLAFH Awards 2019, Los

    Michael B. Jordan, Ronda Rousey Join Efforts to Help the Homeless

    Michael B. Jordan and WWE star Ronda Rousey were just two of the powerhouses that gathered in Hollywood Thursday night for the LA Family Housing’s annual fundraising celebration. The live-auction event, which brought together hundreds of top industry executives, philanthropists, and government partners, aimed to raise $2 million for LAFH, which builds permanent housing and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content