The rapturous debut feature from Moroccan writer Abdellah Taïa offers a charged, semi-autobiographical tale about a young graduate who must navigate the sexual, racial, and political intrigue surrounding his arrival in Geneva.
Inspired by his own autobiographical novel, the rapturous debut feature from Moroccan writer Abdellah Taïa is a story of coming of age, folding and unfolding with love, pain, desire, and violence.
This film is structured in a diptych: the first episode chronicles Abdellah's (Said Mrini) teenage years, when he comes to understand, all at once, his sexuality, social codes, inhibitions, the brutality of patriarchy, and the cruelty of poverty. The second half follows the young adult Abdellah (Karim Ait M'hand) as a penniless university graduate who travels on a scholarship to Geneva, where he must negotiate the treacherous sexual, racial, political, and social trappings of being a young homosexual Moroccan in Europe.
With sparing dialogue, stunning painterly
cinematography by Agnès Godard
and perfectly pitched emotional charge,
the film pays homage to both French
master Robert Bresson and to the godfather
of Egyptian realism, Salah Abu Seif.
However, most striking in Salvation Army
is Taïa's fearless honesty in transposing
to the realm of cinema the complexity of
his experience as a homosexual young
man in a Moroccan working-class milieu.
With eloquence and intelligence, the film
wilfully breaks rank with prevailing queer
narratives and representations of Morocco.
There are no victims to be rescued or pitied
here. It is as much a film about inhibition,
hypocrisy, brutality, and shame as it is
about desire, love, dignity, and survival.
Without a doubt, it's the herald of a great
filmmaker in the making.