‘Pirates of Sale’: Abu Dhabi Review

Courtesy of Abu Dhabi Film Festival
An upbeat doc with moments of poetry

Underprivileged Moroccan teens are given a chance to become circus performers

A social documentary set in Morocco with an upbeat message and a satisfying happy ending, Merieme Addou and Rosa Rogers’ finely made Pirates of Sale should excite interest for its portrait of four young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who succeed in their artistic quest. Auditions by teenage hopefuls turn into rigorous training in a real-life Flashdance or Billy Eliot, with an exotic pinch of circus atmosphere. The fact that these are talented acrobats adds a strong visual dimension. Though this Morocco-U.K.-France-UAE co-production looks primarily pitched for television, it should entertain fest audiences, too, after its bow in Abu Dhabi.

In the coastal town of Sale, hundreds of teens audition annually to become students at the Cirque Shems’y. Its spectacular location on the seaside in the ruins of an old fort is compromised by being near a dangerous slum, where it’s not unusual for female students to be mugged on their way home. But adversity doesn’t stop them. Under the tough love and enlightened guidance of teacher Alain, they learn to rise above social straitjackets and follow the freedom of their imagination. He shows them how to express themselves through their bodies, and to incorporate not just their own street experiences but Arab culture, like the prayer ritual, into their movements; to “confront taboos and jump high off them.” In the last scene, Addou and Rogers follow up on the four main characters and it's exhilarating to see how far most of them have gone.

It may not be the wow-circus of Dhoom 3, but Rogers, who is the cinematographer as well as co-director, illuminates some spectacular shots of young acrobats swinging from the trapeze in Oriental settings as well as under the big tent and on the street. If anything, there aren't enough of these performances and the audience is left hungry for more.

Andy Cowton’s music provides a lively background sound.

Production company: Redbird Productions
Directors, Screenwriters:  
Merieme Addou, Rosa Rogers
Producers: Hilary Durman, Merieme Addou
Director of photography: Rosa Rogers
Editor: Jane Harris
Music: Andy Cowton
Sales Agent: Redbird Productions

No rating, 78 minutes