‘The Damned Do not Cry’ Assessment: Fyzal Boulifa’s Mom-Son Melodrama

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Within the little-remembered 1950 noir “The Damned Don’t Cry,” Joan Crawford performs a Texan housewife whose grief for her late son spurs her to make a brand new life for herself within the city underworld. Fyzal Boulifa’s beautiful new movie of the identical title is known as expressly for that Crawford car, however is neither a remake nor a direct homage. Reasonably, it remixes the narrative parts of that movie and others of its ilk into the sort of new-school-old-school heart-tugger — one would possibly say tearjerker if its characters weren’t, true to its title, stoically dry-eyed all through — that may have been designed for the shoulder-padded diva had been she alive in 2022 and, maybe extra crucially, of Moroccan heritage. 

Charting the turbulent relationship between a single mom and her teenage son on the destitute fringes of Tangier society, the second function from BAFTA-nominated British-Moroccan filmmaker Boulifa sees him shifting focus to his North African motherland after the starkly English kitchen-sink tragedy of his high-quality debut “Lynn + Lucy.” 

But it’s not a whole immersion. In its fusion of Sirkian Hollywood melodrama with the high-key emotionalism of Arabic cleaning soap opera and a extra austere pressure of European arthouse realism — with Pasolini’s “Mamma Roma” one other clearly quoted affect — this haunting, peculiar and sometimes expressly queer story of social isolation and outsider survival looks like Boulifa’s personal transferring, idiosyncratic means of threading the parts of his cultural id. Following its Lido premiere within the Venice Days sidebar, this suitably scattered co-production (French-Belgian-Moroccan, with the BBC Movies imprimatur in addition) will go on to the primary competitors on the London Movie Pageant, with additional competition bookings and specialist distribution throughout a number of territories certain to observe.

If the tone and storytelling listed below are extra ripely expressive than in Boulifa’s debut, the distinctive rigor of his mise-en-scène has been carried over: Working this time with Leos Carax’s favourite DP Caroline Champetier, Boulifa as soon as extra favors tight, exactly composed tableaux that usually quantity to human nonetheless lives, lighting and isolating minor home and ornamental particulars that reveal a lot in regards to the airs and aspirations of Fatima-Zahra (Aïcha Tebbae), a middle-aged, never-married drifter who way back left her puritan house village to pursue a lifetime of glamor — and now helps herself and her son Selim (Abdellah El Hajjouji) with intercourse work.

Normally sharing a mattress within the small, dingy rooms they lease for mere weeks at a time earlier than transferring on, Fatima-Zahra and Selim’s relationship is much less certainly one of mom and son than of equal companions — rife with Freudian undercurrents, solely additional sophisticated now that Selim, almost a person himself, is growingly conscious of his personal sexuality as a possible forex. When he probabilities upon the long-concealed reality of his paternity, the mother-son bond is strained; decided to claim himself as the person of the home, he takes a collection of jobs that results in a sort of houseboy place in a luxurious riad owned by rich, seductive Frenchman Sébastien (“BPM” standout Antoine Reinartz). 

At first disgusted by Antoine’s advances, Selim steadily thaws and succumbs, however that comes with rippling penalties for his relationship with Fatima-Zahra — now on her personal “Mildred Pierce” path of self-reinvention as an upstanding citizen. Even because the movie’s perspective is more and more led by Selim, “The Damned Don’t Cry” by no means loses its sympathy for a matriarch whose life has been so closely decided by males’s needs and violations that her personal ethical compass is up on the market. 

Boulifa movies Tebbae — like El Hajjouji and far of the ensemble, a non-professional — with a transparent, compassionate lens that by no means patronizes nor fetishizes her struggling. Usually styled with metallically accented costuming and lavish make-up that recollects mid-career Elizabeth Taylor, she’s a proud, regal presence even at her most diminished. There’s an artless, heart-on-sleeve brashness to Tebbae’s efficiency that works in efficient distinction to El Hajjouji’s extra watchful, lyncean physicality; as mom and son, they really feel aptly modeled on separate generations of display screen iconography, even when, for a lot of their life collectively, they’ve by no means had a TV set to name their very own.

Boulifa, against this, knits disparate generations and geographies of big- and small-screen melodrama right into a single, refined aesthetic that by no means stoops to easy pastiche or bedazzled kitsch. The mud and drabness of poverty is disrupted by saturated daubs of coloration which nod to heightened Technicolor realities that can’t final: the wealthy silks of Fatima-Zahra’s spare however resourcefully recycled wardrobe, the unnaturally intense blues of the exoticized western-designed riad, carmine flower petals so decadently overbloomed you may virtually odor the rosewater. Directly vibrant and world-weary, “The Damned Don’t Cry” cycles by means of many a usual story — the resiliently borne oppression of ladies with out males, males with out fathers, cities with out pity — acquainted from actual life and cinema alike, and is equally attentive to each sources.

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