Casablanca killers in the making captivate Cannes

AFP

Casablanca killers in the making captivate Cannes
By Emma Charlton (AFP) – May 19, 2012

CANNES, France — How a pair of slum kids are turned into killers, by the tiny trials of life as much as by Islamist brainwashing, goes under the microscope in an ambitious Cannes film based on the 2003 Casablanca attacks.

“God’s Horses” by the French director of Moroccan origin Nabil Ayouch follows the destiny of two brothers, Yachine and Hamid, from their childhood up to the day they each pack a bomb on their backs and choose to die for Allah.

“I’ve had enough of hearing that poverty and oppression equals suicide bomber,” Ayouch told AFP on Saturday, after a screening at the festival’s Un Certain Regard new talent section that earned him a standing ovation.

“That’s a short cut you hear a lot, both in the West and the Arab world. But you can’t just take a kid and brainwash him to kill. If that were true, there would be millions of suicide bombers.

“I wanted to understand exactly how some kids — who remain kids until the end — can be made into suicide bombers,” said the 43-year-old.

From the rough-and-tumble of the childhood football pitch, to the thuggery and injustice the brothers face as they try to make a living as young adults, his film depicts two lives at the bottom of the pecking order.

Because of his lowly status, the shy Yachine pines after a local girl who will remain agonisingly out of reach, guarded by her family for a better marriage prospect.

When Hamid — his elder, tougher brother — is jailed for defying a local bigwig, he returns transformed by an encounter with Islamist “brothers”, drawing his sibling and their childhood friends in his wake.

Ninety percent of Ayouch’s cast including its two lead actors are non-professionals, recruited from the vast Casablanca slum of Sidi Moumen where the real-life bombers were enrolled by Islamic extremists.

The film was almost entirely shot in a shantytown a few kilometres from Sidi Moumen, reflecting the deeply limited horizons of its characters, one of whom travels into the city for the first time the day of the attacks.

“Of course poverty is part of the reason. But it’s all the tiny traumas of existence,” Ayouch said. “A mix of social, economic and intellectual poverty, of broken family structures with absent father figures.

“And when a personal destiny comes into contact with a bigger story, with geopolitics, that’s when the extremist recruiters can come into play.”

Soon after the May 2003 suicide attacks, Morocco’s deadliest ever which left 33 dead as well as 12 bombers, Ayouch shot a documentary on the families of the victims and survivors.

“But I later realised I had forgotten some of the victims,” he told AFP. “Twenty-year-old kids who go and blow themselves up are victims as well.”

At first he shows the Salafist militants who move into the slum in the early 2000s offering a road out of the squalor, promising order, honour and discipline to a band of lost kids.

Gradually their message becomes more radical and their demands more insistent, until the brothers and two of their friends find themselves enrolled on a suicide mission.

Tragically, in the case of Yachine, the bombing is clearly a way to assert his battered young manhood, far more than any act of faith or anger.

The film draws its title from a phrase used in the days of the Prophet Mohammed, which has been co-opted by modern-day jihadists, something Ayouch finds “both terrible, and terribly poetic.”

Born to a Jewish French-Tunisian mother and a Muslim Moroccan father, he grew up in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles but spent all his childhood summers in Morocco and drew on personal experiences for the film.

In particular, he included an excruciating scene in which one little boy in the brothers’ gang is raped by an older one — a phenomenon as taboo as it is common according to Ayouch.

“Because they don’t have access to girls of their own age, people’s natural sexual awakening is replaced by rapes among kids — which are extremely widespread,” Ayouch said.

“I saw scenes like that — I was even once caught in a scene like that, and was rescued just in time by a cousin,” he told AFP.

Far from gratuitous, the scene is one of a series that hint at the harmful effect of strict sexual segregation in Islamic societies.

“When you love and you are loved back, it’s a lot harder to go and blow yourself up,” Ayouch said.

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Posted on May 19, 2012, in Morocco News and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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