Casablanca Beats film review: A messy but vibrant street musical

While the teacher remains unknowable his charges are open books begging to be read

Casablanca Beats
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Director: Nabil Ayouch
Cert: Club
Genre: Crime
Starring: Anas Basbousi, Ismail Adouab, Meriem Nekkach, Nouhaila Arif, Zineb Boujemaa, Abdelilah Basbousi, Mehdi Razzouk, Amina Kannan, Soufiane Belali, Samah Barigou, Marwa Kniniche, Maha Menan
Runing Time: 1 hr 41 mins

Pitched somewhere between Être et avoir and Fame, this lively official competition entry from last year’s Cannes selection was shot around and inspired by the Positive School, an arts centre founded by Casablanca Beats’ writer-director Nabil Ayouch. Set against the tough, impoverished and frequently radicalised Casablancan suburb of Sidi Moumen, Casablanca Beats opens as an enigmatic young teacher Anas (Anas Basbousi) spray paints the classroom wall where he will soon unite students from different backgrounds through hip-hop.

As with Dead Poet’s Society and School of Rock, Anas’s teachings bring him into conflict with a conservative administration and a larger religious community for whom dancing, rapping, young women is a morally perilous development.

This vibrant street musical finds powerful expression through its religious and social specificity and in its youthful ensemble as they exchange ideas, bicker and occasionally harangue one another. Some of the male students tell their female classmates to “cover up”; many of the girls rap fearlessly under their hijabs. At home, many of the kids experience misunderstanding, hunger and poverty. A wild climactic group dance-off works to offset any of the social realist miseries experienced at the margins of the film.

Mysteries

The emphasis on the value of great teaching is somewhat undermined by the mysteries surrounding Anas. We watch him living out of his car. We see him befriend a street dog. We suspect that he has left behind a career in rap (just as Basbousi has). He remains, nonetheless, frustratingly unknowable. His charges, conversely, are open books begging to be read.

Taking cues from the lively cast, Nabil Ayouch’s third feature to make it to Cannes is scrappy, occasionally messy, prone to distractions, and never less than diverting.