Cast: Nardine Labaki, Morjana Alaoui, Lubna Azabai, Hiam Abbass, Omar Sharif
Director: Laila Marrakchi
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Synopsis: Summer in Tangiers, Morocco. A family reunite for three days in their home following the death of their patriarch, the influential businessman Moulay Hassan (film legend Omar Sharif), to share their memories and to grieve for his loss according to Muslim tradition. They have left the beach behind and swapped swimsuits for djellabas as everyone gathers in a show of mourning.
However, sparks start to fly when prodigal daughter Sofia jets in from New York after several years away. The youngest, she has made a new life for herself as an actress in America, but frustratingly, only ever gets television roles as a terrorist. Her return provides the opportunity to settle some scores with her sisters, as the order once maintained by Moulay breaks down.
Between laughter and tears, a collective hysteria leads each of the women to confront some home truths that have boiled beneath the surface for years.
Rock The Casbah
Release Date: November 20th, 2014
Question: What was your first reaction when you read the script for Rock The Casbah?
Lubna Azabai: I was totally swept up in it. I like the tone which blends freshness with glamour and a political side. I liked this chorus of women who rise up during the funeral of the man who ruined their lives. I saw a powerful message in there: we need Arab women to speak out. As long as we don't admit that they are equal to men and their rights are not recognized, it is essential that they continue to struggle. The women in the film belong to the Moroccan bourgeoisie, they are educated, have had the chance to travel and get to know the outside world. But despite that, one senses they are haunted by a feeling of claustrophobia. They are suffocating in this society where men have their place preordained, where no one asks them what they think, and where rules are omnipresent. You can feel these women cannot manage to cut the cord. Or in their case, one is almost tempted to say the pipeline!
Question: The funeral acts for them like a release valve.
Lubna Azabai: And that's exactly how things happen in reality. The film portrays an up-scale funeral; among the working class, the release valve bursts open even more violently. They let it all out, it has to explode! Drama is a deeply-rooted dimension in our culture.
Question: The women in the film really let themselves go.
Lubna Azabai: Sofia's return is the catalyst: she acts like a mirror. She says to them: 'Look what you've done with your lives!" Sofia is very bitter and she reawakens in them a series of events that everyone wanted to suppress. Arab families talk very loudly, sometimes even shouting, but they don't actually have much to say. The unsaid is a national sport for us.
Question: Kenza, the character you play, is very different to the roles you have played until now.
Lubna Azabai: Yes, she is in a more comic register. She's a sort of Woody Allen character. When Laïla and I met, we quickly agreed to give Kenza a dimension which is both funny and moving; and above all, not slip into anything wishy-washy or pastel. Kenza couldn't be pegged back to the role of a married Muslim woman and mother. She's more subtle than that, more nuanced.
Question: She was closest to the deceased father, whom she practically worshipped.
Lubna Azabai: She remains the little girl in love with her papa. Her father is the only man in her life; her marriage is going nowhere, she has no control over her son, and she's a bit of a goodytwo- shoes.
Question: She's also the most militant.
Lubna Azabai: And I'd say the most open, along with the character of the grandmother. Of all the women, Kenza is the one with the strongest faith – it's she who prays. That said, she doesn't challenge her sisters' choices, nor the esthetic choices of Miriam who is continually getting cosmetic surgery, nor those of Sofia who has become an actress. She is tolerant. Kenza has principles, but she doesn't attack the others because of them. I also liked the fact that she's the assertive one: she has studied, and as a Muslim, she knows the Koran. She has sufficient responses to put the others in their place. Kenza could have had a different life, but gave up on it to stay with her father. Is she contented? Yes, in a certain way: for her, teaching is the best job in the world.
Question: How did you work on your character?
Lubna Azabai: I always approach it the same way. First there's a very studious stage which consists of learning the text inside-out. That is all the more important and long for me since I'm dyslexic. Then I do a lot of work in advance. I'm involved with the script 24 hours a day; I dream about it, I take notes, I test things. Once I have arrived at my idea of the journey, I look for the keys to accomplish it. Sometimes that's all about the details – the headdress that I wear at the start of the film, the glasses. Laïla was really not sure about this accessory, which I kind of imposed on her. It seemed obvious to me that Kenza should wear one.
Question: Tell us about the other women in the film.
Lubna Azabai: Sofia is the one who said no. I see Miriam as a flower that is blossoming and constantly trying to stop wilting. She suffers greatly from her beauty; she's a very fresh character, and very melancholic, which I find particularly moving. The deceased sister seems like a war victim to me, and the mother like the tree on which one can rest. My favorite is the grandmother. She's an Almodóvar-style character, a former feminist; she represents the Tangiers of the Belle Époque, that memory of an insouciant North Africa, not yet closed in, when Paul Bowles and the Rolling Stones had set up there, and when women walked around in miniskirts and smoked in the street. We often forget that time ever existed.
Question: You have always been politically engaged.
Lubna Azabai: I think that cinema, whatever topic it is dealing with, is almost always political. I would love to make thrillers or lighter subjects, but it just so happens that I get offered characters like Kenza and I accept them happily. I'd much rather play a woman like her than a victim who is beaten by her husband. In playing this role, it felt like I was opening a door for the spectator: Look, it's possible to change things.
Question: Tell us about the shoot.
Lubna Azabai: I know Hiam Abbass very well, but I'd never met the other actresses. After five minutes, during the first rehearsals, I felt as if I'd known them for 10 years. The script was very crafted and precise, so things came very easily. Laïla asked us to improvise for certain sequences: she took some of our dialog and worked it into the scene that we'd film. Her extreme preparation allowed us this liberty.
Question: Had you seen MAROCK before filming with Laïla Marrakchi?
Lubna Azabai: Yes. I not only really liked the film but also really admired the courage she had to go and present it in Morocco. The people there weren't ready to see a story about a young Moroccan woman who falls in love with a Jew.
Question: At the time, in 2005, the film caused a stir. Do you think Rock The Casbah, which makes some hefty references to the new rights of women in the area of inheritance, a very sensitive theme, will trigger the same sort of reaction?
Lubna Azabai: Inasmuch as these allusions are put in the mouth of Kenza, a woman of profound faith, I don't think so. She doesn't insult anyone and limits herself to denouncing those who'd like to reinterpret the law according to their own interests. Apart from the scene at the start of the film when the dead man gets a hard-on, Rock The Casbah seems less controversial than MAROCK or GOODBYE MOROCCO, which I made last year with Nadir Moknèche.
Rock The Casbah
Release Date: November 20th, 2014