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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

The Damned Don’t Cry ****

Starring: Abdellah El Hajjouji, Aicha Tebbae, Antoine Reinartz

Director: Fyzal Boullifa

Country: Morocco

In this bold film from sophomore director Fyzal Boulifa, we are plunged into the strictures of urban Morocco. Fatima-Zahra (Tebbae) is a single mother, estranged from her family for having a child outside wedlock. Her teenage son, Selim (El Hajjouji), is old enough to work himself, but is horrified to learn that his mother has been selling her body to pay their bills.

As the pair relocate to Tangiers to start a new life, history begins to repeat itself as Selim realises that without the correct identity papers (which are denied to him because he’s a bastard) the only way he can earn enough money to survive is to sell his body too. Meeting a rich Frenchman (Reinartz) who is opening a high-end riad, he is suddenly able to support his mother for the first time, even if he refuses to disclose where his money came from.

The film is anchored by two superb performances, with its leads flawed enough to serve an arresting narrative, but likeable enough to make us really root for them. Fatima-Zahra has a whiff of Blanche DuBois about her; extravagant and camp, her actions are entirely at odds with her moral compass, leaving her deeply conflicted. Aicha Tebbae gives a stellar performance, finding real complexity to a woman that doesn’t fit within Morocco’s social code. Meanwhile, Selim is a bundle of contradictions, unable to see the parallels between himself and the tragedy his mother continues to live.

Episodic in structure, the two narrative strands are woven deftly together. Melodramatic at times, its rounded characters and confident script make for a moving film about the Maghrebi underclass, forced into a downward spiral solely due to perceptions of morality. An emotive portrait of a mother and son, this is a tragic slice of social realism centred around a pair of superbly compound characters.

UK Release: 7th July 2023 in cinemas, released by Curzon


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