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Marrakech Reviews: Jawad Rhalib’s ‘Rebellious Girl’ And Keiko Tsuruoka’s ‘Lingering Memories’

Marrakech Reviews: Jawad Rhalib's 'Rebellious Girl' And Keiko Tsuruoka's 'Lingering Memories'

“Rebellious Girl” 
A co-production between Morocco and Belgium, “Rebellious Girl” (French title: “Insoumise”) is directed by Jawad Rhalib, known primarily for his documentary work. There’s a strong social commentary in “Rebellious Girl” as well, the optimistic aura of which overwhelms the storytelling. The “insoumise” in question is Laila (Sofiia Manousha), a young, energetic social activist in Morocco. The scenes of her activism are fairly generic and anonymous, marked by acoustic guitar strumming and standard street protest. There’s no elucidation of the issues at stake, but it’s really just a device for her to throw up her hands and head for Europe, seeking work as a seasonal fruit picker in Belgium. Once installed at an apple farm, it quickly becomes clear that Laila’s activist spirit won’t be tamed. While she connects with the diverse group of workers, she’s angered by the living conditions and questionable overtime payment, and reaches out to a group to organize a strike among the seasonal workers. This development is telegraphed from the moment Laila arrives, as she closely inspects her contract and the farmhouse dorm. A political backdrop of unrest in the fruit industry due to the European Union’s annexing of the Crimean peninsula is provided by ambient news radio, and offers an explanation for the economic woes of the farm. 

Manousha is beautiful, but she seems to have one mode in this film: indignant. Even during a particularly ill-advised sex scene, she is defiant, one of those “we’re so mad at each other we should rip off our clothes and make passionate love” type scenes. The topic is ripe for an activism-oriented film, but the cheerful, optimistic tone and rote story beats don’t make for anything interesting, original, or nuanced. Characters flip unexpectedly, without any reasoning for their changes of heart, and the film follows an uncomplicated path towards a bland group hug happy ending. The Moroccan pop-punk soundtrack also underscores the happy anarchist tone. It’s hard to see this film having any kind of appeal outside of Morocco or Belgium, as it’s not complicated or artful enough to be seen as an international art house selection, and the nature of the Belgian seasonal workers issue is too specific to have social traction elsewhere. This girl might be rebellious, but the film itself is rather unimaginative. [C-]

“Lingering Memories” 
A dour young woman is fired from her terrible cocktail waitress job and boards a bus for the mountains. At the last stop, she finds herself in a small village filled with her own ghostly memories and repressed trauma, where she connects with a teenage boy working through his own grief. The only film in competition at the 2015 Marrakech International Film Festival directed by a woman, Keiko Tsuruoka, “Lingering Memories” is a debut filled with ambitious ideas and a tightly controlled tone that demonstrates Tsuruoka’s potential as a director. 

The story unfolds slowly, layers unwrapping themselves, as rumors about the “weird girl,” Tokiko (Misaki Kinishita), spread around the small town. At a mountainside hut, she discovers Yohei, the teenage boy who’s been cutting class to draw in the secret spot. The two have both suffered losses — Yohei mourns a dear friend who worked for his father’s lumber business, and Tokiko is only now revisiting the memory of her father’s death many years before. The misfits find solace in each other, and a way to let go of their own ghosts. Tsuruoka’s camera has a consciousness of its own, and she uses slow lateral pans to reveal information to the viewer. Her treatment of dormant memories and spectral images is subtle and effective, utilizing color saturation and camera movement in unique ways to distinguish the real from the ethereal. Certain moments tread toward the melodramatic or soapy, aided by a few misguided music cues, but for the most part the film is a tightly controlled narrative, parceling out pieces of information methodically, laying out the emotional groundwork before the facts intercede. A fine effort from a young filmmaker with a clear vision and strong potential. [B] 

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