El Ayel: A Musim Childhood (Morocco, 2005, 83 min, 35mm)
By : Moumen Smihi
Screens: Thursday, October 16, 7pm
El Ayel (The Kid), Mohammed Larbi, is a moody loner, about 10 years old and troubled from the start. He endures sickness, a traumatic circumcision, harsh religious catechism, and European Jansenism. The setting is Tangier during the mythic period of International Administration in the 1950’s. Larbi is a free spirit, preferring the open air and street life to the cloistered family environment or classroom. He gets into mischief with the other kids on his street, going as far as committing the ultimate act of subversion: sacrilege. Street life involves violence, and Larbi suffers his share. Only the love he feels for Khadija, and, through her, for the movies saves Larbi from the predators who lurk in the Zoco Chico (the square in the old medina). His love gives the young protagonist hope for the future, even after the heartbreak he suffers when he discovers the fate that awaits Khadija. A mix of Proustian nostalgia and what Charles Dickens calls “autobiographical fiction”, “A Muslim Childhood” is at once an elegy and an anthropological reflection in sound and image of a childhood in Muslim Morocco.
Moumen Smihi was born in Tangier and attended Mohammed V University in Rabat. He was involved with the Structuralist movement in Paris in the 1970s which emphases socially contextual filmmaking that is rooted in social research and poetry. Rossellini, Rouch and Pasolini were all part of this movement, called auteur cinema. From his film The Tales of The Night through Moroccan Chronicles, Smihi has sought to portray the ways in which a petrified Arab society - raven by the conflicting historical currents of a feudal past, its subsequent decay and a colonial legacy - tries to come to terms with the harsh realities of economic underdevelopment in the 20th century. His narratives blend fiction with documentary to articulate a vision at once removed and compassionate, a vision that is humble, awed, and almost violently silent.