Moroccan cinematography was born in the late 1960s, preceded by some significant events: the documentary images shot by the Lumière brothers’ operators and by Félix Mesguich in 1896; the opening of the first laboratory, Cinéphane, in Casablanca in 1939; the foundation of the Center cinématographique marocain (CCM) in 1944, an institution of colonial origin destined for the production of documentaries, of the newsreel al-Aḫbār al-Maġribiyya (Chronicles of Maghreb, from 1958 to 1963) and subsequently to support the first national feature films; the establishment, also in 1944, of the Studios du Souissi in Rabat; the filmed testimonies of Mohamed Osfour (his only feature film is the fable al-Kinz al-ǧahannamī, The Infernal Treasure, from 1970) on the Moroccan movement’s struggle for independence from France, that since 1912 had imposed a protectorate regime on the country. Furthermore, the Morocco has always constituted an evocative filming location for foreign productions, especially French ones.
The work that marked the entry of Morocco – independent since 1956 – in the history of cinema was the feature film Intaṣir li ta’īš (1968, Win to live) directed by Ahmed Mesnaoui and Mohamed Ben Abdelwahid Tazi. The film, which is influenced by the Egyptian musical melodrama (see Egypt), tells the story of a bricklayer who became a popular singer. In the same year, Larbi Bennani and Abdelaziz Ramdani opened other avenues for young cinematography with ‘Indamā tanḍuǧī al-tamr (When dates ripen), set in a village in the south of the country. In the seventies, the magazine “Cinéma 3” and then the Fédération nationale des ciné-clubs marocains (FNCCM), founded in 1973 by the critic Nour-Eddine Saïl, laid the foundations, despite production and censorship difficulties, for the birth of a new cinema, more attentive to social issues: Latif Lahlou’s Šams al-rabī’a (1969, Sun of Spring) portrays the difficulties of a Casablanca official, who arrived from the countryside, who is unable to adapt to the lifestyle of the capital; Wašma (1970, Traces) by Hamid Benani, a collective work even if signed by a single director, it constitutes a fundamental stage in the development of Moroccan cinema due to its formal and narrative freedom in following the tragic vicissitudes of a boy who rebels against his family; Alf yad wa yad (1972, The Thousand and One Hand) by Suheil Ben Barka instead represents an indictment of the exploitation of the workers of a luxury carpet factory in Marrakech. In this decade, characterized by a limited production but of excellent quality, they also made their debut: Mustapha Darkawi with ‘An ba’d al-aḥdāṯ bidun ma’nā (1974, Of some event without meaning), an investigation into a murder that is intertwined with a director’s character reflections on cinema dominated by Hollywood and Western cultural colonialism; Moumen Smihi with al-Šarqī aw al-ṣamt al-‘anīf (1975, al-Sharqi or violent silence), the drama of a wife who wants to prevent her husband from taking a second bride; Jillali Ferhati, with Ğarḥa fī ᾽l-ḥā’iṭ (1977, A breach in the wall), in which through the gaze of a deaf-mute one discovers the life of the marginalized in Tangier; Ahmed al-Maanouni, author of al-Ayyām al-ayyām, (1978, Oh, the days!), On the everyday life in a village. At the same time, other filmmakers, such as Abdallah Mesbahi (Sukūt, al-ittiǧāh al-mamnū ‘, 1973, Silence, forbidden sense; al-Ḍaw᾽ al-aḫḍar, 1976, Il semaforo verde, co-production with Libya), aimed at commercial success. For Morocco 2019, please check philosophynearby.com.
Ferhati, Smihi and al-Maanouni have thus become reference points of the most innovative Moroccan cinema. With al-Hāl (1981, known as Trances), al-Maanouni explored the universe of Moroccan music together with the popular group Nass El Ghiwane. This film ushered in a decade in which, not without controversy, news regarding the financing of films took shape (in 1980 the Support Fund was established by the government, followed by the Production Aid Fund) and in which they were the first film festivals were conceived, first in Rabat and Casablanca, then in the 1990s in Meknès and Tangier, up to that of Marrakech, in business since 2001. Ahmed Buanani, former co-founder of the Sigma 3 collective, made his only feature film in 1980, al-Sarāb (The mirage), about the disappointments of a young man eager to make a fortune in the city. Equally short, but important, the filmography of Mohamed Reggab, who died in 1990, author of Ḫallāq darb al-fuqarā ‘(1982, The barber of the poor neighborhood) which, inspired by a play, portrays a poor neighborhood controlled by an old and wealthy former collaborator. Mohamed Abderrahmane Tazi is the author of highly popular films such as the comedy Baḥṯan ‘an zawǧ imra’tī (1993, In search of my wife’s husband), but also of more intimate works including Bādis (1989), about friendship between two women in a society hostile to them. Director and screenwriter Farida Benlyazid made her debut in 1988 with Bāb al-samā ‘maftūḥ (A Door to Heaven), which describes the story of a woman who returned to Morocco in search of her Muslim roots; while Izza Genini, filmmaker and producer, characterized her filmography under the banner of documentary, in film and in video (among her works the series on tradition, folklore and music, al-Maġrib ǧism wa rūḥ, 1987-1992, Morocco, body and soul). Abdelkader Lagtaa turned his gaze to urban everyday life with Ḥubb fī ‘l-dār al-bayḍā’ (1991, A love in Casablanca) and Les Casablancais (1998). Unique, independent work, not traceable to schemes, is that of Naguib Ktiri-Idrissi, ‘Azīz wa Ittū (1991, Aziz and Itto), a story of love and rituals, with a rhapsodic proceeding, continuously poised between documentary and fiction. The nineties brought to the fore a new generation of filmmakers, already landed in feature films or authors of promising short and medium films. Among the feature films to mention: Maktūb (1997, La sorte), road movie with noir intrigue, and ‘Alī Zāwa (2000), aestheticizing drama about street children, both by Nabil Ayouch; Adieu forain (1998), on wandering artists, and ‘Awd rīh (2001, Il Cavallo di vento), another way of approaching the road movie following the story of an old man and a young man, directed by Daoud Aoulad Syad. But the most original looks were those of Yasmine Kassari with the short film Chiens errants (1996) and of Faouzi Bensaïdi, author of short films (La falaise, 1998; Trajets, 2000; Le mur, 2000) and of the feature film Mille mois (2003), all works attentive to the contamination of genres, permeated by a strong sense of solitude and a radical exploration of space.