We’ve just returned from the 19th edition of the Marrakech Film Festival—the Arab World’s most exciting, star-studded cinema event. Over a week-and-a-half, we were treated to a diverse selection of films from the region, as well as special screenings for other great releases (like Andrea Pallaoro’s Monica) and classics from Moroccan icon Farida Benlyazid. The Djema el-Fnaa square was filled every evening by thousands of Marrakech locals, all of whom arrived to celebrate their national stars and watch a selection of fun, family cinema projected around the UNESCO Heritage site.
The competition films were overseen by jury president Paolo Sorrentino, as well as Tahar Rahim, Nadine Labaki, Vanessa Kirby, Laila Marrakchi, Diane Kruger and Justin Kurzel. At a spectacular closing event on Sunday night, the awards were given out by Jeremy Irons and Leila Bekhti after celebrating the career of Tilda Swinton.
Here is ARF’s breakdown of the films from the competition—those who won the highly coveted prizes and those that are worth seeking out.
WINNER of Etoile D’Or
Tale of Shemroon (Iran) – Director: Emad Aleebrahim Dehkordi
Perhaps a surprise winner—even the director appeared startled at the announcement—this is a film about two brothers in Tehran who hit on a moneymaking scheme to break out of their family’s humdrum assistance. It is a dual portrait that manages to add gravitas to its central characters, and we’re elegantly exposed to the dynamics of Iranian society through their eyes, without it being entirely central to the plot. Dehkordi ties the film’s narratives up successfully, which is no easy feat—and that is certainly in part to the performances; most notably by Iman Sayad Borhani as the energetic, intelligent caring brother.
WINNERS of the Jury Prize
The Blue Caftan (Morocco) – Director: Maryam Touzani
Shown at Cannes this year, where it was in the Un Certain Regard category, Touzani’s film has returned home. This was the talk of the festival—not just because it tells a rich, human story about love and regret—but because of its homosexuality themes, as a middle-aged tailor in Casablanca finds himself drawn to a handsome young apprentice, all while his wife begins to become seriously ill. “Love who you want to love,” exclaimed Touzani after accepting the award. Moroccan journalists were less impressed; not because of the homosexual references, but because of the lack of Moroccan actors in the central roles.
Alma Viva (Portugal) – Director: Cristèle Alves Meira
A magical film that depicts folkloric images through the eyes of Salome, a young girl who spends time at her beloved grandmother’s home in the mountains. This is small, delicate and engaging work with a dramatic finale, and succeeds within its small run-time of telling a potent ghost story. What had many of the press talking, though was the performance of the director’s daughter Lua Michal, who puts in a beguiling, unselfconscious performance of a child stuck between the traditional and modern worlds.
Snow and the Bear (Turkey) – Director: Selcen Ergun
One of our favourites from the line-up, and easily among the most underrated. Selcen Ergun’s debut is a tense Flaubert-like tale set in a remote, snowy Turkish village, where through the eyes of a new nurse, we learn about the villagers’ unusual power struggles. It balances the humour of provincial life with violence and natural spirituality in a way that remains gripping and mysterious. There are allegories about Turkey today: “It’s a microcosm for what is happening, sure…but it also a story,” Selcen tells us. The director is under harsh and unfair criticism in her native country for political reasons, but nobody who watches Snow and the Bear can deny that she is one of their most exciting emerging talents.
Thunder (Switzerland) – Director: Carmen Jacquier
Jacquier won the Best Directing Prize, and after seeing Thunder, we strongly agree with the decision. This is a visually majestic film, that observes its religious iconography, as well as the repression on women’s bodies, in a disturbing way—drawing from strong references like the rural painter Giovanni Segantini. Filmed in the Valais mountains, it tells the story of seventeen-year-old Elisabeth in the summer of 1900 who, while taking her vows, is forced to return home to assist her family in farming work following the mysterious death of her sister Innocente. As the story continues, Jacquier reveals a human urge to connect with one another, free from the shackles of religion.
Riceboy Sleeps (Canada, South Korea) – Director: Anthony Shim
This was the favourite among most of the critics at the festival—so it was a shock that Anthony Shim’s feature took home neither the Jury Prize of the L’Etoile D’Or. The jury did, however, recognise Choi Seung Yoon, for her sublime performance as a Korean immigrant single mother raising her son in Canada. The story is based on Shim’s own life, seen through impressive long-takes that allow audiences to sit in on the intimate and emotional moments from his past. The chemistry of the cast gives it a sense of warmth that matches Shim’s own directorial talent—with a tone that is exquisitely judged. In short, Riceboy Sleeps is a standout from the Marrakech Film Festival.
Red Shoes (Mexico) – Director: Carlos Eichemann Kaiser
“All I wanted was for people to find something in this film that they reflect on in their own lives,” director Carlos Kaiser told us at the closing ceremony. The Mexican filmmaker has produced a subtle drama following Artemio, a farmer who embarks to the city after receiving some shocking news. There, he befriends a young wayward woman who teaches him how to survive in the capital. Artemio is played by a real miner, with no acting credits to his name, meaning that there is a naturalism to the way he moves through the story and in his interactions with the so-called-civilised inhabitants of the city. Red Shoes was an interesting addition to the competition, that, with its brief eighty-minute run-time is a curious look at modern Mexican society.
Other Recommended Films from the Marrakech Film Festival
Faraway Song (Brazil); Ashkal (Tunisia); Abedlinho (Morocco); Audition (Indonesia).
Like what you see? For more festival news see our London Film Festival 2022 winners roundup.