WWW: What a Wonderful World

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Courtesy photo
Faouzi Bensaïdi/Morocco-France-Germany 2007

For most people, Morocco on film starts and ends with Casablanca – which was of course made on Californian soundstages. Faouzi Bensaïdi’s Morocco is the real thing: His Casablanca, where WWW: What a Wonderful World was shot, is a gritty but entrancing city. Here, veiled women and those in Western clothing mix amicably. People speak a constantly shifting combination of French and Arabic. And the vibrant city streets embrace a balance of the traditional and the new.

Where the film is less successful is in its balancing of filmic genres. Bensaïdi has stated he wanted to make neither a romance nor a gangster film, but instead a pastiche of both. Kamel (played by the director, the cartoon champion of The Triplets of Belleville made flesh) is a hitman who falls in love with a traffic cop named Kenza (Nezha Rahile, Bensaïdi’s real-life wife) who also sells calls on her cellphone. Their romance is played out in phone calls which Kamel tapes, as his attraction is to the sound of her voice. For Kenza’s part, she once saw Kamel leaving the home of a prostitute friend of hers and fell in love with his startling appearance.

At the beginning, commentary spools over the screen – the written equivalent of the voiceover in Amélie – but by the end this is abandoned. There are several scenes of undeniable charm, such as Kamel’s adjustments to the neon lemonade sign that looms over his apartment, or the stunning aerial shots demonstrating Kenza’s total control of city traffic. But since the lovers are so seldom together and their conversations are less witty bantering and more obvious explorations of their differences, it’s hard to understand why their romance becomes so all-consuming.

The most erotic sequence doesn’t even feature Kamel. Fatima (Fatima Attif), whose soldier husband has been away for over a year, purchases calls on Kenza’s phone. Late one night, they blindfold the owner of a photography shop so that Kenza can take nude photos of Fatima for her husband’s benefit. However our attention is completely on Kenza as she directs Fatima with an arch of her hip or a curve of her arm. You don’t doubt why the shop owner keeps his hands firmly on his lap.

The gangster side of the film is much stronger, from the opening sequence of murder in a public bathroom to a bravura shooting in a shopping mall with an ingenious method of escaping from the police. But it appears Kamel chooses his targets based on a complex method of symbols and ciphers, which can appear on t-shirts at the beach or in the dance poses of a Bollywood film. We never learn for whom – if anyone – he is working, so the only logic behind his choices are that they make for exciting cinema.

The third subplot, about the attempts of a young computer expert, Hisham (El Mehdi Elaaroubi) to escape Morocco for Europe, sits uneasily with the rest of the film. His escapades with his wheelchair-bound father are interesting only as further scenes of Casablancan life. Other reviewers have suggested that Hisham hacks into Kamel’s hitlist, but that tenuous connection was lost on me.

WWW: What a Wonderful World fascinates on a scene-by-scene basis, and is one of the most visually inventive films in recent memory. But the separate parts never gel into a comprehensive whole. This is a shame, because Bensaïdi has a distinctive talent for cleverly framing shots, picking dynamic angles, or simply rejoicing in Rahile’s non-airbrushed beauty – if only it were more than the sum of its parts.

© 2006 Sarah Manvel. All rights reserved.

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