You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto Film Review: ‘Razzia’

Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch courts controversy with this everything-is-connected drama about five characters snared by intolerance.

Nabil Ayouch
Maryam Touzani, Arieh Worthalter, Amine Ennaji, Abdelilah Rachid, Dounia Binebane, Abdellah Didane. (French, Arabic dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7216256/

If political courage were a measure of artistic merit, Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch’s “Razzia,” a kaleidoscopic drama about intolerance and social tumult in Casablanca, would be a formidable achievement. As it stands, Ayouch’s decision to keep courting controversy after his last film, “Much Loved,” was banned from Morocco for its depiction of prostitution in Marrakech is laudable in a country where the censors hold sway. Yet the everything-is-connected framework, linking five stories across a 30-year span, plays like a multipronged pitchfork wielded against the establishment, with each character sharpened to a point. The message-first approach drains the film of spontaneity and depth, despite the rousing passion of its director. A prime spot in TIFF’s Platform competition will raise its profile, but “Razzia” may struggle to find a home, inside and outside Morocco.

With repeated references to “Casablanca,” Ayouch draws a contrast between the romantic and rebellious spirit of the Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman classic and the modern city of Casablanca, which is falling short of those ideals. (At one point it’s noted bitterly that not a second of “Casablanca” was shot in Morocco.) But “Razzia” starts outside the city, 30 years earlier, with Abdallah (Amine Ennaji), an enlightened rural schoolteacher who bristles against Islamic government reforms that would change his curriculum and force his students to speak in Arabic, a language they don’t know. When he resists, Abdallah loses his job without notice.

From there, “Razzia” reveals how that single injustice ripples through the lives of generations to come, as religious dogma begins to take root. Cutting to 2015 Casablanca, Ayouch follows four more stories that have hidden links to this past oppression. Ayouch’s co-writer, Maryam Touzani, plays Salima, a rebellious modern woman who’s punished for her libertine ways, both at home, where she’s shunned by her misogynist boyfriend, and on the street, where a random passerby scolds her for her tight dress. (In response, she hikes it up further.) Then there’s the affable Joe (Arieh Worthalter), a well-to-do Jewish restaurateur who strikes up a relationship with a prostitute, only to watch her flee in disgust when she discovers his religion. The film’s roundelay also includes two young people at a confusing juncture in their lives: Hakim (Abdelilah Rachid), a would-be rock star who worships Freddie Mercury but cannot please his conservative father, and Ines (Dounia Binebine), a wealthy teenager who cannot find relief for her stress or a healthy outlet for her burgeoning sexuality.

The interaction among all these characters is minimal, which means that the amount of time we get to know them is also limited, because the film has to keep juggling five balls in the air. Ayouch’s solution is a narrative shorthand that underlines the messages he’s trying to send, like noting Ines’ cultural quandary by having her pray toward Mecca while a racy music video plays on her computer monitor or introducing an abortion subplot as a crude affront to government restrictions. “Razzia,” which means “raid” in Arabic, touches on feminism, education, religious law, anti-Semitism and freedom of expression — a list of political topics so comprehensive that Ayouch could moonlight as an opinion editor or a debate coach.

As a filmmaker, Ayouch displays a formal elegance at times, as in a tracking shot where Hakim struts through a hostile neighborhood like John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever” or the malevolent hordes of protesters that creep into the frame. Ayouch idealizes “Casablanca” as a vision of the city he wants, flush with romance and resistance, but he has a strong sense of Casablanca as it actually is, seized by the encroachment of repressive ideology. Yet “Razzia” is fatally crippled by a conceit that flattens the characters to serve an argument, like bullet points in a sweeping editorial about the current state of Morocco. It’s a style better suited to the opinion page.

Toronto Film Review: 'Razzia'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Platform), Sept. 12, 2017. Running time: 109 MIN.

Production: A Unite de Production production. Producers: Bruno Nahon, Patrick Quinet, Nabil Ayouch. Executive producer: Nahon.

Crew: Director: Nabil Ayouch. Screenwriters: Maryam Touzani, Ayouch. Camera (color, widescreen): Virginie Surdej. Editors: Sophie Reine, Marie-Helene Dozo. Music: Caroline Chaspoul, Eduardo Henriquez, Guillaume Poncelet.

With: Maryam Touzani, Arieh Worthalter, Amine Ennaji, Abdelilah Rachid, Dounia Binebane, Abdellah Didane. (French, Arabic dialogue)

More Film

  • Fan Bingbing

    Chinese Celebrities Pay $1.7 Billion in Back Taxes Following Fan Bingbing Scandal

    Chinese film and TV stars have paid some $1.7 billion (RMB11.7 billion) of additional taxes, following the mid-2018 scandal surrounding actress Fan Bingbing. The figure was announced Tuesday by China’s State Tax Administration. Chinese authorities launched a probe into the taxation affairs of the entertainment sector in October. Companies and individuals were asked to examine [...]

  • Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf

    Film News Roundup: AMC, Regal to Leave 'Roma' Out of Best Picture Showcases

    In today’s film news roundup, “Roma” will not be in the best picture showcases at AMC and Regal, “Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church” gets a release and SAG-AFTRA’s David White has a new appointment. ‘ROMA’ SPURNED More Reviews Concert Review: Lady Gaga Outdoes Her Other Vegas Show With Masterful 'Jazz & Piano' TV Review: 'Russian Doll' [...]

  • First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban

    First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban-Inspired After-Party (EXCLUSIVE)

    Celebrities at this year’s SAG Awards won’t have to go far for some tropical fun. Sunday’s annual post-show gala, hosted by People magazine for the 23rd year, is set to feature a Cuban-themed party space adjacent to the Shrine Auditorium. More Reviews Concert Review: Lady Gaga Outdoes Her Other Vegas Show With Masterful 'Jazz & [...]

  • Paul DavidsonVariety Big Data Summit Presented

    Listen: The Orchard's Paul Davidson on Surviving Sundance Bidding Wars

    Hollywood heads to Park City, Utah this week in the hopes of finding the next big Sundance Film Festival breakout. Paul Davidson, executive vice president of film and television at The Orchard, plans to be in the thick of it. In today’s edition of Variety‘s “Strictly Business” podcast, Davidson opens up about The Orchard’s strategy [...]

  • Young Tony Soprano in 'Sopranos' Movie:

    James Gandolfini's Son Michael Gandolfini Cast as Tony Soprano in 'Sopranos' Movie

    Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini, will play the young Tony Soprano in “The Many Saints of Newark,” the  prequel movie to the television series “The Sopranos.” “It’s a profound honor to continue my dad’s legacy while stepping into the shoes of a young Tony Soprano,” Gandolfini said. “I’m thrilled that I am [...]

  • Bradley Cooper A Star Is Born

    The Message of the Oscar Nominations: You'd Better Have a Social Message

    Each year at the Left Coast crack of dawn, when the Oscar nominations are announced, there’s generally at least one major nomination many pundits were predicting that fails to materialize. When that happens, entertainment media tends to rise up as one and say the s-word: snub. In truth, it’s not usually a snub; it’s just [...]

  • Elton John and Mark Ronson

    Elton John to 'Shallow' Songwriter Mark Ronson: 'You're Going to Win the Oscar'

    Elton John is willing to bet that Mark Ronson will win the Oscar for Best Original Song for “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born.” The nominations were announced this morning. The legendary performer spoke to Ronson on the latest episode of his radio show “Elton John’s Rocket Hour” on Apple Music’s Beats 1.  More Reviews Concert [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content