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Sunday
Apr292012

Love in the Medina (2011): Hotter than Sex and the City

I knew next to nothing about Love in the Medina (2011, جناح الهوى) when I went in to see it, nothing other than what I had read in the film synopsis on the website to the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival. I don’t impetuously attend festival screenings as I used to—spontaneity undercut by schedule.

I didn’t know that Love in the Medina starred Omar Lotfi, whose name I hadn’t recognized but whose face I then did from Casanegra, a Dutch/Moroccan production I had watched a couple of years ago. I didn’t know that it had been the Moroccan box office champion of 20111, nor that it was the first Moroccan film (a joint Italian-Moroccan production) to depict a nude actor in the act of love making2.

Love in the Medina, whose script was adapted from Choice Cuts, a novel by Mahmed Nedali (غراميات متعلم جزار لمحمد نيد علي), is a sultry melodrama about a young man’s irrepressible affinity for the flesh that continually pits him against traditional patriarchy and societal stricture. Love in the Medina mostly succeeds in generating a particular sort of heat, a combination of provocation and titillation, thanks to its photography and to its actors’ intrepid performances.

The story of Love in the Medina is centered on Thami (التهامي) whose adolescent fascination with flesh in the kitchen grows into a fascination with flesh in the bedroom. Well, not just in the bedroom, since the frolicking in Love in the Medina, all of which involving Thami, takes place in a variety of stimulating spots. Ah, but this of course is a melodrama, which means that Thami can’t get off without trouble. The trouble is primarily personified by his father, a religious judge and stern patriarch, whose strictures are Islamic in flavor, but familiar to patriarchic family life everywhere. The father who rarely communicates with his son other than to admonish, resents his son’s wanting to become a butcher, having ideas for a more respectable profession for Thami, before coming around to establishing a stall of a butcher’s shop for Thami in Casablanca’s Medina (the old city) market, enabling himself to exert control over his son’s life as he grows into manhood. The father would later attempt to consummate this control by marrying off his son to a select girl from the countryside named Keltoum, only to encounter inevitable disappointment upon learning of his married son’s affair with a married woman, resulting in Thami’s repudiation and excommunication.

The father, though having intimations of his son’s disregard for god and tradition, never learns of the contribution the butcher’s shop makes to his son’s sex life, which had up to the point of its founding been restricted to self love and the perfunctory pleasure offered by communal bath attendant and prostitute Halima. The butcher’s introduces Thami to a hitherto unavailable world of carnal prospects, pursued in charged and provocative sex scenes, featuring food, both raw and cooked, as well as fetching conveniently Oriental settings: the stall in the market, a Moroccan traditional parlor festooned with mosaic tile, and a traditional communal bath.

The boinking session inside of Thami’s stall (Don’t ask me how!) involves a French tourist who seems particularly interested in Thami’s trade, confiding in him that she had always been fascinated by raw meat. For decades I have known of the utility of tongues in love making, only that I had been under the impression that they necessarily came attached. I later would recall the love scene in the Itami classic Tampopo, with its raw egg swapping.

Tampopo (1985)

The parlor scene certainly had me tingling more than the butcher’s scene, in part because I am partial to ripe, raw tomato over ripe raw cow tongue, but also because the lovemaking between Thami and Zineb, his paramour, evidently consummates a long raging mutual desire, one in which I had become invested. Also notable is the photography of this scene, what with its soft focus and its mosaic backdrop. It’s the editing that makes the scene though, at whose beginning, Zineb appears in close-up brandishing what seems a lip sore, puzzling until she soon thereafter grabs for a tomato and bites into it, as she straddles Thami, suggesting a dissonant temporality. As such, editing the shots in this sequence in a temporally non-linear fashion enhances the suspense and aptly replicates the characters’ hazy temporal perception, while in the throes of passion.

The bathhouse sequence, delicately shot and convincingly performed as it is, suffers not only from its nodding to Orientalists tropes of exoticizing the mundane, eroticizing it whenever possible, but also from exposing Zineb’s body, in the only instance of nudity in the film, but not Thami’s, even though she had taken a markedly greater risk than he in participating in their affair. Instead, exposing Thami’s body alone would have not only proven less typical than as done, but also more faithful to the characters’ individual contributions to their romance.

Other than arousing nice and well, Laraki does elicit precise and revealing performances from his talented cast and does effectively recall the oppressive mood of 1990s Morocco, during which most of the story takes place. (Upon mentioning the film and its surrounding controversy to my Moroccan barber, he quipped to a visiting friend that if they had dared screen this film in Morocco in the days of Hasan II then it would have been “Oh, hou, hoou!”) Expectedly, the film’s production design does suffer for the small budget (a million dollars, reportedly)3. Moreover, editing so as to abruptly move back and forth in time, though effective in the discussed parlor sex scene, does not serve the telling of the story, which moves rather abruptly as if, as my companion had remarked, missing key scenes that had been edited out of the final picture.

As I left the cinema, I gauged my state of mind as customary. Recalling the alluring images of food and flesh I noted that I was neither hungry nor particularly aroused. I think that I had too much tongue on my mind.

Works Cited

  1. Simon, Alissa. "Love in the Medina." Rev. of Love in the Medina. Variety.com. Reed Elsevier Inc., 12, 18, 2011. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117946768/>.
  2. Al-Khudeiri, Mohammed. "Moroccan Audacity in Love in the Medina (in Arabic)." Rev. of Love in theMedina. Akhbarona (in Arabic) 6, 12, 2011: n. pag. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <http://akhbarona.com/news6231.html>.
  3. See reference # 2

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