There are several good reasons to consider Mostafa Derkaoui a pioneer of Moroccan cinema and one of his country’s most prolific filmmakers. In January 1974 he returned home after studies in Łódź, Poland, for several years, and he immediately set out to change things.
The Moroccan film industry at the time was still in its infancy, and Derkaoui did not want it to develop into another showcase of commercial or entertainment cinema, as was the case in the dominating Arab film nation, Egypt. Neither did he want to produce obscure pieces of underground art for the selected few. He had no wish to defer to the expectations of the public and the critics but wanted to proceed differently by making something that neither referred to the experiences of people in capitalist countries, nor to those in Third World countries, like Algeria and Egypt.
This became the framework of his first feature film. Here, we find him with a group of like-minded filmmakers and intellectuals, and helped along with plenty of wine and Marxist principles, as they go into Casablanca in search of a public that should give them an indication of audience expectations.
A cinema which doesn’t tackle real problems makes films go wrong, says the Moroccan poet and writer Mostafa Nissabory along the way, and that turns out to become a bitter confrontation with terse realities. By coincidence, they interview a person involved in a murder case, and the whole project changes direction.
About Some Meaningless Events, the English title of the film, was only screened once after completion. It participated at the Paris Film Festival in 1975, and right after was banned by Moroccan censorship and disappeared.
Considered lost, the original 16mm negative was discovered decades later at the Filmoteca de Catalunya, and in 2018 it was restored and digitalized. Now it is finally ready for public screenings.
That is nothing less than a cinematic event. It is a film about the role of cinema, art and national identity, and so many years later it is still contemporary and relevant for today’s debate. It is a film that must be seen.
It rings a bell when one person says that «Moroccan cinema should be committed to the working-class problems. This is not just a Moroccan issue, it concerns the whole Third World cinema. We can see that on films made by young Latin American filmmakers.» It also makes one think how much has actually changed since then? Freedom of expression and social inequality are still very much issues of the debate in that part of the world. They were central themes in the so-called Arab Spring that just created worse conditions for many populations and only reached Morocco to a very limited extent, if at all. The relaunch of this important film was made possible through the support of – among many others – Moroccan state television, but still, you should ask what would happen if a young filmmaker decided to illuminate the ills of society today?
We should understand that De Quelques Événements Sans Signification was created in a complicated era. The magazine «Souffles», that was published by a small group of self-professed «linguistic guerillas» had just been banned and its founder jailed along with other supporters of a Marxist-Leninist revolution. Two failed attempts at military takeovers in 1971 and 1972 had exacerbated the political situation and the following repression isolated Morocco under King Hassan II. This helps to explain why the film was banned.
But the artistic dilemma still exists in many ways. In the film, we witness how Derkaoui and his comrades discuss what to do when they realize that they have filmed a suspected killer. Should they show it? There are several reasons to kill somebody. Sentimental reasons, obscure reasons. But this man supposedly killed his boss at work. It happened in the port of Casablanca, and we have to consider other things. Maybe most of the port workers want to kill their bosses? Maybe there is a mafia, controlling the port? Yes, this man is a criminal, but the problem is far more complex.
A cinema which doesn’t tackle real problems makes films go wrong
The filmmakers do not intend to hide problems, even though that could be beneficial for them in some ways. They talk about aesthetics of violence, not violence in a creative way, like in The Big Boss, the 1971 martial arts blockbuster by the iconic Bruce Lee who was tremendously popular in Morocco at the time. They are talking about the aesthetic representation of the real thing.
Do you think killing a man will change anything? asks one of the filmmakers, and gets the answer, do you think your camera will change anything?
In the end, their camera changed a lot, but mostly for the filmmakers on a personal level. If an established Moroccan cinema had existed, the quest for a new audiovisual language would presumably have been met with goodwill and encouragement. That was not the case, and the way Morocco’s authoritarian power relations are still the same, the questions Mostafa Derkaoui asks have certainly not lost any of their significance, in spite of all the years.