El Ayel - A Muslim Childhood - Le Gosse de Tanger
Poster by AST Head Librarian Serena Epstein
"They accuse me of making 'intellectual' films, so the presence here of so many women from the medina - from our Beni Idder neighborhood where Le Gosse de Tanger is set - is extremely important to me." So Moumen Smihi, veteran Tangier and Paris filmmaker, greeted our very respectable gathering on Wednesday, on the margins of Morocco's National Film Festival, in Tangier for the 13th year running.
"Respectable," not only in terms of the quality of the people attending, but in their number: we had literally just gotten the word out less than 24 hours before, and our posters (above) were only distributed hours before our showing. But most importantly, the women that Moumen Smihi were referring to were "our" women from the TALIM-FTAM women's literacy program housed at the Legation.
Why was this so important, to us and to the filmmaker? Well, it was a first. Smihi is used to appearing before cinéphile audiences, congnoscenti who know what he means when he compares his returning references to the Tangier of his youth to Woody Allen's use of New York as a setting for his films: "it's the place I know best... with its multiplicity of languages and cultures, and the destiny of people to live together, whatever it takes."
And it was that aspect of Le Gosse de Tanger (2005, 90 minutes) that spoke most strongly to the women of our literacy program. Several of the older ones (Smihi's film takes place in the 1950s, when Tangier was still the International Zone) vividly remember this very neighborhood in the days when Muslim mothers brought in Spanish seamstresses to make trousers for their sons, or a Jewish matron sought advice from a Muslim sage, or Christian prostitutes shared the street with their colleagues from the other communities.
Sure, the x-rated language of the Fifties-era street kids did shock some in the audience, and some of the mothers regretted that they couldn't show the film to their children. Of course Moumen Smihi understands this, but explained that his goal was to portray the reality of growing up in a time and place where the respectable lived next door to the rejected, and the tempations of the street were a danger to boys even from the happiest of families.
For our impromtu showing, we even had the benefit of academic analysis - in French and Arabic - by Dr. Peter Limbrick of the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), Smihi friend and professor of Arab and Middle Eastern cinemas. Be sure to read Peter's excellent "guest post" after the page break at the bottom of this post.*
There are touches of Cinema Paradiso here, and one of the most memorable images is of the little friend "Ouahrani" mesmerized in one of Tangier's old cinemas before the flickering black and white images of a world that he will never grow up to know. Moumen Smihi has given us a loving, lasting work, one that would be a nice addition to any serious study of Tangier, International Zone, as seen by the Muslim population of the time.
*UPDATE 29 January: Guest Post by Dr. Peter Limbrick
A Muslim Childhood at TALIM: Putting le gosse back in Tangier!
One of best things about writing and teaching about film is getting to experience a film with new