Dir/scr: Caroline Link. Germany. 2013. 122mins
A rambling combination of travelogue, road movie and coming-of-age tale, Caroline Link’s new visit to Africa will prevail on the merits of is spectacular Moroccan landscapes which may have been originally intended as a backdrop but ends up as the film’s main and most impressive achievement. The tale of a 17 year-old boy who unenthusiastically goes to Marrakech to spend the summer with his estranged father seems to be driven more by the passion for the country where it takes place rather than its story which seems to be not much more than an excuse.
Loosely and not very coherently stringed together, Link’s film leaves no doubt of her fascination with Morocco and the deep sympathy she has for its people.
Link’s script starts with a dysfunctional family in the best Western tradition. Father, Heinrich (Tukur) is a stage director, mother, Lea (Marie Lou Sellem) is a concert cellist, both careerists at heart. They are of course divorced. Their son, Ben (Samuel Schneider), a gifted but unruly student, insufficiently interested in the world around him, lives with his mother and feels he is condemned when he has to visit his father in Marrakech during the summer holidays, while all his friends are having a ball on the beach in Nice.
He doesn’t like his father and he doesn’t care about the production of Lessing’s Emilia Galotti which he is putting up in Morocco. On top of everything else, Ben is diabetic and has to inject insulin regularly, but this doesn’t seem to affect him too much.
Once he is in Morocco, he does everything in his power to irritate Dad, who like many foreign artists, prefers to live in luxurious palaces, sip martinis and read Paul Bowles to understand the land and its culture, pretending imagination is more rewarding than reality.
To spite him, Ben goes out on the street, meets the people, tries to unveil the real face of the country, falls for a young hooker, Karima (Hafsia Herzi) and follows her, without notifying his father, all the way to her home in the mountains, where her family pretends they don’t know the source of the money she sends them, and demands that at home she respect traditions or leave. Since much of the film expounds on the abyss separating the Western and Moroccan cultures, Karima and the relation she entertains with her family, as compared to Ben’s own, adds one more point to the equation.
Whatever plot there is up to the point where the two of them part, gradually disintegrates into a series of tentatively tied incidents, as Heinrich finds his son skiing down the dunes in the best Alpine fashion, and the two predictably manage to discover each other on their way back to civilization. It all looks highly improbable and manipulated, but allows the camera to fully appreciate not only the glory of the Atlas mountains but also the colorful nature of the people living there.
A touristic rather than a truly pertinent point of view, at times it risks ridicule, for instance when an adolescent tourist guide recites the muezzin’s prayer in English, for the benefit of his client. But it is all certainly is pleasing to the eye, thanks both to Bella Halben’s camera and to Link’s choices of locations, from the luxury hotels in Marrakech through busy markets, remote and mysterious villages perched on mountain slopes to the dunes of the Sahara.
Loosely and not very coherently stringed together, Link’s film leaves no doubt of her fascination with Morocco and the deep sympathy she has for its people. Samuel Schneider’s Ben takes up most of the acting chores, fully identifying with the role of the rebellious son, who despite all his pretenses, would still like to be cuddled by parental love he has missed, while Ulrich Tukur delivers his usual, authoritative performance but isn’t required to go much beyond. Still, it is a far cry from the Oscar-winning, intimately felt Out of Africa, the story of her own family and their exodus there during WW2.
Production companies: Desert Flower Filmproduktion, Erftall Film&Fernsehproduktion, B.A. Produktion, MTM West Television & Film, Studiocanal Produktion, ARD Degeto, BR, WDR, ARTE
International sales: Arri Worldsales, www.arri.de
Producer: Peter Herrmann
Cinematography: Bella Halben
Editor: Patricia Rommel
Production designer: Susan Bieling
Music: Niki Reiser
Main cast: Ulrich Tukur, Samuel Schneider, Hafsia Herzi, Marie Lou Sellem, Joseph Bierbichler