Self-discovery: a human and not a stranger in places, with family and among friends. A SUMMER IN BOUJAD tells GENERATOR +13 Karim’s story

“In Boujad, people love things from France. I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s simply because they come from France”. The idea for 13-year-old Karim, an improvised toy seller, committed to helping his father who has also lost his pension, comes from Nadia, whom he met in Morocco. Here he went with his father Messaoud for the holidays, seven years after the death of his mother. French boarding school in Casablanca, then the move from Paris to Boujad. Almost a leap in the dark, and not only because Karim has to integrate into a family that is strange to him (his father’s wife, his half-brother, his father’s new mother-in-law), but above all because of a cultural and generational shift, heightened by his lack of knowledge of the Arabic language and further sharpened by the recurring thought of his mother’s death. At times the universal language of sport, of football, helps him: in the streets, he plays with other boys. They have rules though, a code, values: not those of bullies, abusing others is forbidden. So, when Karim imitates the neighbourhood bully, pulls down a girl’s skirt and throws away her sandal by kicking her, he is excluded from the group. A brawl ensues while the Moroccan team is playing and everyone is shouting ‘gol’ but the mother of the girl humiliated by Karim shows up at Messoud’s house and tells him that her daughter has been beaten. Everything becomes harder, more difficult, slippery, and sharp for Karim. He is starting to show signs of rebellion and starts stealing, including his father’s scooter ‘that I borrowed’. Director Omar Mouldouira presses on with a question that also overturns the perspective of A SUMMER IN BOUJAD“What if we asked ourselves when do we stop feeling like strangers?” The filmmaker asks when we really stop feeling like strangers or our viewpoint, and sometimes that of others simply changes. Through film, cinema, the art of observation, he investigates this question that remains unanswered. In Boujad, people not only love the things that come from France but also risk hating each other (“Here is the knife, do it my son, kill me: my life is full of mistakes”) and then they reconcile, they love each other. Father and son embrace without a word, as they often have done, on the grave of Karim’s mother Fatima. And Karim doesn’t knock on Mehdi’s door, the neighbourhood bully who also went to prison, but leaves a hand on his doorstep signifying ‘stop’. It says: ‘Don’t touch my friend’, a sentence against racism. In his way, during one overwhelming summer in Boujad, he too had been a friend.

A film in loving memory of the director’s uncle “because he was like a father to me and supported me when I returned to France,” explains the director, attending the debate with the producer and distributor. “He died before I shot the film, and I dedicated it to him”. In the cemetery scene, when father and son embrace at the grave of Fatima, the first wife and Karim’s mother, the boy’s friend, who had taught him to read Arabic but whom he had beaten, appears on the scene. The juror Vittoria asks: does she somehow represent the reincarnation of his mother? ‘Karim does not yet know how to love women because he is 12 years old. The only one is his mother,’ answers the director. “He cannot accept his mother’s death and Nadia is an enemy until Karim accepts the mournful event. When this inner shift occurs, Nadia could potentially be his girlfriend, or at any rate, no longer an enemy”. In the hall, there are some criticisms – even harsh ones – of the director for his representation of the Arab world, especially for the scenes of violence committed by the husband against his new wife. The director replies that it is not his intention to portray the Arab world as violent because there is violence in general, without nationality or polarisation. Moreover, the director’s spotlight is not on the husband’s violence but on the strong, modern, female figure embodied by his wife, who confronts her husband with character and courage, and tells him “Aren’t you ashamed of hitting me, you don’t even know how to apologise, do you think you are more of a man if you hit me?” “Every film,” the director continues, “has a first, second, third layer of interpretation and so on. When this film was screened in France, many women thanked me because I tackled the problem of masculinity, which is not Arab but universal. Karim is still looking for the rules of being a man. In the end, both he and his father understand it. I think everyone can grasp a superficial layer of interpretation and a deeper one. Some men make mistakes. It happens not because they are Arabs, Italians, French, but because they are men”.

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