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PARIS — A gritty and stylized urban thriller with strong social overtones, Death for Sale marks an intriguing though somewhat generic third feature from Moroccan filmmaker Faouzi Bensaïdi (WWW: What a Wonderful World). This tale of three down-on-their-luck thieves driven towards a tragic destiny is marked by solid performances and a convincingly dark atmosphere, even if the story tends to favor sensationalism over realism. After premieres in Berlin and Toronto, Morocco’s Oscar contender should see continued fest play and a few art house stints, primarily in those territories where the project was co-financed.
Set in the grimy northern city of Tetouan (located 50km southeast of Tangiers), the film follows a trio of long-time friends—the foolish romantic, Malik (Fehd Benchemsi), the impoverished fanatic, Soufiane (Mouchine Malzi), and the tough ex-con, Allal (Fouad Labiad) — as they try to scrape by without any clear prospects for the future. Forced to snatch purses and sell contraband fashion in order to pay themselves a night on the town, their lives seem headed for nowheresville until Malik meets the seductive prostitute Dounia (Imane Elmecharfi), who slowly drives a wedge between the innocent delinquent and his best buddies.
Trying to balance his material between film noir conventions (the femme fatale, the crooked cop (Bensaïdi) and the heist gone sour) and a more fascinating look at a generation of youth laid to waste by unemployment and corruption, Bensaïdi has a hard time maintaining a consistent tone and tends to opt for a classic—and classically predictable—kind of storytelling, especially when things come to a head in the final act.
Still, there are many moments to savor in between, fueled by weighty turns from a relatively unknown cast and some impressively staged scenes that make excellent use of the stark inner-city settings, recalling such recent Moroccan thrillers as Nour-Eddine Lakhmari’s Casanegra and Leïla Kilani’s On the Edge. Indeed, all three movies manage to combine genre tropes and social portraiture in different (if not always original) ways, revealing a nation torn between rampant Western capitalism and burgeoning Islamic fanaticism, as well as the last remnants of French colonialism.
Cinematography from Elia Suleimane regular Marc-André Batigne captures the action in a series of complex camera movements and crane shots, maintaining the integrity of the real-world locations while adding a sufficient level of suspense.
Production companies: Entre Chien et Loup, Agora Films, Liason Cinématographique, Heimatfilm
Cast: Fehd Benchemsi, Fouad Labiad, Mouhcine Malzi, Imane Elmecharfi, Faouzi Bensaïdi
Director, screenwriter: Faouzi Bensaïdi
Producers: Sébastien Delloye, Souad Lamriki, Bénédicte Bellocq
Director of photography: Marc-André Batigne
Production designer: Itaf Benjelloun
Costume designer: Nezha Rahil
Editor: Danielle Anezin
Music: Richard Horowitz
Sales: Urban Distribution International
No rating, 112 minutes
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