This beautifully shot black-and-white fiction/fact hybrid, concerning director Oliver Laxe's work teaching filmmaking to underprivileged boys in Morocco, is worth seeing for its attractively stark images and occasionally wry self-awareness, but the themes can be guessed in advance. Though predictable, the film's poignant moments are worthwhile for arising from issues infrequently addressed so directly in ethnographies. For instance, the children swarm in with their cameras on a group of white tourists walking through their streets, and a German couple comments that they should ask permission before invading with their cameras, suggesting of course an opposite question that goes unasked. And a man praises Laxe's work with the poor children, telling him what a good "message" the film sends. But one boy complains about Laxe and his arty self-reflexive techniques: "He gathers images about miscellaneous facts, crimes, thefts... I'm telling you the truth, it isn't a film. A film needs a story."
The Parisian-born Spaniard Laxe describes himself as a neo-colonialist filmmaker, but means a Colonial Guilt filmmaker. While the transparency of this privileged do-gooder's role as outsider observer and narrative imposer is admirable, admission does not automatically give him a pass. The self-absorbed focus on his role in these children's lives, and in this film, seems a bit one-note compared to the glimpses of imagination that the boys exhibit in the stories they want to shoot and even in their energetic shouts at "Spaghetti," their nickname for the lanky Laxe. The handsome bohemian, with his long dark hair and scruffy beard, looks very similar to Russell Brand, and in fact some of this film's themes were covered more succinctly in the funny part of Brand's Get Him to the Greek, the "Africa Child" music video (in which he parodies a rock star who makes a video about an African white Christ from outer space with a "small African child trapped in me"). The little boy may or may not be right that a film needs a story, but a feature film apology like this is lacking some oomph and nuance.
Opens October 19 at Anthology Film Archives