Raja (2003)

JACQUES DOILLON

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB

/, 2003. , , , , , , . Screenplay by Jacques Doillon. Cinematography by . Produced by , , . Music by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

plays a Frenchman living the high life in Marrakech, running a gorgeous villa where he is endlessly chummy with the ladies who run his kitchen. When 19 year-old Raja () shows up to help in the garden, he becomes immediately entranced with her, attracted to her sexually but also fascinated by her offhand and abrasive manner, while ignoring warnings from the rest of his staff to keep away from her. Raja is a woman who has been fending for herself for a long time, surviving on the streets of the city after her brother threw her out, and now living with her boyfriend Youssef () who thinks little of pimping her out when he wants to make some extra cash. Raja is intrigued by Greggory but their courting ritual is fraught with the many differences between them, cultural, generational and economical, which turn their sexual tension into a battle of wills and a contest for survival: he has come to this place thinking he can live the high life with few consequences, she thinks she can use him for his money without it getting emotionally complicated for her.

Jacques Doillon uses what feels like freely improvised scenes to honestly explore the challenges faced by this couple, but he never gets anything out of first gear, no development occurs with either the protagonists or their relationship from the initial conflict that is set up. It doesn’t help that included among the many inequalities between the lead characters are the unequal talents of the actors playing them, Greggory bewitchingly portrays self-indulgent lechery with an irresistible, almost childlike twinkle in his eye that gives the film its only hint of depth or complication. Benssallem, a non-professional who was discovered on the streets of Marrakech (and, by all accounts, including a documentary made about her more than a decade later, was left there when shooting was done), has an interesting, off-handed manner and a tough sincerity about her, but her performance is one-note and it is quickly evident that the rest of the cast are acting circles around her.

Doillon’s later film Love Battles would also revolve around a slowly crumbling resistance between two headstrong lovers, but ups the tension by using two equally skilled performances and provides far more satisfaction than is achieved by this very boring film.

Toronto International Film Festival: 2003

Venice Film Festival Award: Best Young Actor or Actress (Najat Benssallem)

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