Casablanca Mon Amour: Film Review

Courtesy of Montreal International Film Festival
Doc wants to say things about Hollywood/Arab dynamics, but fails on most fronts.

John Slattery (no, not that one) follows two Casablanca youths on a trip through Morocco.

MONTREAL — Setting two Casablanca youths on a road trip whose agenda seems unclear to everyone involved, John Slattery's Casablanca Mon Amour operates on the dubious assumption that an inexperienced American and two "authentic Moroccans" will somehow automatically generate a meaningful commentary on the history of Hollywood's impact on American attitudes toward Arabs. It doesn't, and this almost entirely pointless quasi-doc will attract two kinds of soon-to-be-disappointed viewers: Those looking for thoughtful representations of Arab cultures in the West, and those who mistake the filmmaker for the Mad Men actor of the same name.

It's hard to know where to begin addressing the film's frustrations, but one makes it particularly hard to discuss: Slattery begins with a casting call and hints at the artifice of filmmaking throughout ("do we have the prop suitcase with us?" somebody calls before slating a scene), but presents the film as if it were the creation of one of his subjects, a communications student named Hassan. Hassan, we're told, decides to accompany friend Abdel on a trip to rural Jorf so he can gather material for a school project about Moroccan attitudes toward Hollywood.

We might forgive more of the amateurish travelogue to come if it were actually a teenager's school project, particularly if his unjaded perspective led to insights we haven't heard from scholars and journalists already. But since so much of the material has clearly been staged, why should we accept the ugly, consumer-grade video footage here? And why would we accept it, even if it were authentic, when the best the local boys can do is to line up strangers on the street and ask "who's your favorite movie star?" over and over?

(The subtitles frequently flub their answers, citing "Charles Bronsen" and three different spellings, none of them correct, of Jean-Claude Van Damme's name. The proliferation of misspellings here is absurd in a film written, directed and produced by an American.)

Hassan's voiceover offers some dry wit and makes a few funny jokes at the expense of his traveling companion. But Abdul is given almost no chance to assert his own personality onscreen. The boys take in a wide swath of the country, heading east through Meknes and Jorf before circling back to Essaouira and home, at one point touring the Atlas Film Studios used by Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott and others.

But their occasional (very badly presented) montages of clips from Hollywood films set in the area will say nothing new to any viewer likely to see this film. And it's bizarre that the filmmakers would convince so many villagers to stand in front of their cameras and then not let any of them say anything substantial. A scene of the boys watching TV news contains a clip of Condoleeza Rice visiting the Middle East in an official capacity, suggesting how long this footage has been sitting on someone's shelf. It probably should have stayed there.

Production Company: Zween Works

Director-Screenwriter-Producer: John Slattery

Director of photography: Fara Akrami

Music: Malhun de Meknes

Editor: Michael Nouryeh

No rating, 77 minutes