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Francophone Voices of the 'New' Morocco in Film and Print : (Re) presenting a Society in Transition-A book review


In the first two pages of Francophone Voices of the “New” Morocco in Film and Print : (Re) presenting a Society in Transition, the reader can understand that Valérie Orlando intends to discuss the entire history of Moroccan fiction. In order to clarify her intentions, she writes, “This book assesses to what extent Moroccan francophone literature, press, and film reflect the sociocultural and political transitions that have taken place in Morocco since 1999 and King Mohamed VI’s (popularly known as ‘M6’) coronation.”

Valérie Orlando’s essay is divided into seven sections. The first chapter, “The Power of Engagement  :Writing in/on the Front Lines of Politics and Culture in the New Morocco”, redefines first of all the idea of Engaged Writing, since “Being engagé for the Maghrebian author is almost synonymous with using the French language, as Dominique Combe points out in her study Poétiques Francophones….” Then, she presents the work of Rida Lamrini (La Saga des Puissants de Casablanca) and of Touria Oulehri (Les Conspirateurs sont parmi nous). Orlando underlines the characteristics in the literature of Lamrini in this way, “Lamrini’s messages revolve around three principal themes that he promotes as the keys to solving many of the country’s ills (i) the need to ensure the well-being of children so that future generations of Moroccans will thrive; (ii) the necessity of a thorough revision of the Moroccan constitution in order for the country to transit to a more democratic and less authoritarian form of government…”. As for Oulehri, Valérie Orlando states, “Oulehri’s novel is thematically grounded in subversion and fragmentation. Not only are her messages calculated to entreat readers to think about the repression that took place during the Lead Years, she also questions patriarchy, notably Hassan II’s tyrannical ‘culte’ de la personnalité (personality cult) held over Morocco for almost forty years.”

The second chapter emphasizes the films and novels written by/or about people who were incarcerated by the government. The preface gives the reader an outline of the content of these written and visual accounts. The following commentary clearly illustrates this: “ Through the filters of memory and the revisioning of history, they bring to light some of the more obscure details of the Lead Years, a past sequestered in Morocco’s national psyche.”. Valérie Orlando is more precise in characterizing the novels of this new school, such as Le Couloir : Bribes de vérité sur les années de plomb, La Chambre noire. She states in reference to them, “Their stories offer revelations about the general oppression of the Moroccan people in the 1970s with respect to political disenfranchisement, freedom of expression, and the right to assembly. Despite the oppression and the regime’s calculated efforts to suppress communist groups, the testimonials reveal a commitment to the promotion of a universal ideology linked to other across nations.”

The challenges that Moroccan women face daily are the subject of the third chapter entitled “Publishing Women : The Feminine Voices of Social Activists”. With respect to these challenges, the author alludes not only to family problems, but also to religious and traditional constraints that prevent the development of these women. In order to discuss these challenges, she examines works such as Le Corps dérobé de Houria Boussejra, and Oser vivre of Siham Benchekroun. The conclusion that she reached about the subject of these works’ authors is that, “These women have broken the silence of the muzzled Lead Years to write true ‘testimonios,’ as their Spanish-speaking counterparts have done in Chili and elsewhere in Latin America.”

Questions related to sexuality and gender play a leading role in the fourth part of the book, entitled “Sexuality, Gender, and the Homoerotic Novel of the New Morocco”. According to Professor Orlando, Moroccan authors who adopt this type of literature have a specific goal:  “They incite reader to think about gender, sexual freedom, and the emancipation of both men and women from the fetters of traditionalism inherent in Moroccan society”. The fifth chapter of Orlando’s work is in a big part dedicated to the impact of the newspaperTel Quel on modern Moroccan society. In few words, Orlando explains the role of Tel Quel : Tel Quel voyeuristically looks through a window onto its own society in order to expose injustice and, in turn, encourage reflection, all the while trying to avoid dogmatism.”

The thematic developed in the sixth and second to last chapter is not far from that which was examined in the preceding one. Entitled, “The Humanist Individual in Contemporary Morocco”, Valérie Orlando analyses the body of work of authors such as Souad Bahechar (Le Concert des cloches) and Mahi Binebine (Cannibales). She concludes, “They set the narratives of their novels on neutral ground in order to attempt to negotiate between the conflicting views of East and West, the young and old, the traditional and the modern.”

Orlando concludes her book on modern Moroccan society with, “Morocco on the Screen: Cinema in the New Morocco.” In this section, Orlando suggests that the ‘nouveau’ Moroccan cinema brings to the surface questions that appear taboo, and that led to prison time for the authors.  To support her arguments, she cites films like J’ai vu tuer Ben Barka, Le Grand voyage, Les Yeux secs, and Marock, which tackle the serious aspects of the political life in the kingdom as well as very relevant societal questions such as the marginalization of women in the Moroccan countryside.

There is no doubt that The book Francophone Voices of the ‘New Morocco in Film and Print : (Re)presenting a Society in Transition, is a breath of fresh air particularly to research on the different types of Moroccan literature and Moroccan cinema. Since it contains very recent based on a subject matter often researched, it is therefore very important to read and share the content not only with students but also with other researchers working in the same field, the journalists and critics.

Source: cineafrique.org

Original article published on Feb. 15, 2010

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STORMING BRAINS : 09/04/2010