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, Taïa's SALVATION ARMY 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.
Abdellah Taïa will be in attendance for a post-screening Q+A.