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Cabo Negro

Two young Moroccans experience homosexual love and prostitution, in this delicate tale of oppression and liberation - from the 58th edition of Karlovy Vary

QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM KARLOVY VARY

Young and handsome Jaafar (Youness Beyej) and equally beautiful Soundouss (Oumaima Barid) spend their days on the beaches of Cabo Negro, a holiday town in Northern Morocco. They enjoy a very cosy sibling connection, as well as a physical resemblance, yet it remains unclear whether they are indeed blood related. They both long for a same-sex partner, who departed some time ago. The woman has lost all hope of seeing her past lover, but the male still has faith that his beloved Jonathan will return from abroad. He keeps his mobile phone close by, confident that a message will soon arrive.

The weather is hot, and their bodies chiseled and irresistibly tanned. They leverage these qualities to their favour, selling their body to horny old men. The price is 1,000 dirhams (about £75) for one of them, or 1,500 for both, and they are prepared to do anything the client desires. That’s not a negligible amount of money. Jaafar and and Soundouss do not live in extreme poverty. They are in control of their bodies and opt for prostitution. The director does not inflict any moral judgment upon their choices. The male proves to be a far more popular choice amongst the not-so-sophisticated clientele.

The synopsis informs us that our two gorgeous protagonists are on holidays, but you would be forgiven for assuming that they live there. Jaafar repeatedly visits his father’s grave, and a very savvy middle-aged woman (maybe his aunt?) insists that he scoops a foreign boyfriend who can wire some money for her children. I doesn’t make any sense that his late father and this very familiar woman would follow Jaafar on vacation, in evidence of a vaguely disjointed script.

Jaafar eventually finds comfort in Mounir, a charming French-Moroccan man of around his age, and who doesn’t speak any Arabic. He acts as a translator, and helps him to reconnect with his culture. There are graphic moments of homosexual affection, including cuddling, caressing and holding hands in public. They even utter the love that dare not speak its name. This is an unusually candid representation. Morocco is no longer the gay and lesbian paradise of the 1970s, home to Jean Genet and a regular of destination of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, but instead a country that criminalises and persecutes the LGBTQ+ community.

A quiet and stern tone dominates Abdellah Taïa’s sophomore feature (the 50-year-old director released his debut feature Salvation Army more than a decade ago, in 2013). The camera movements are very subtle, the conversations are brief, and the acting is calm and unembellished, almost a little stilted. The conflicts are mostly internalised. There are no epic and dramatic twists. Both Jaafar and Soundouss remain very stoical in handling their blossoming sexuality as well as the oppression mechanisms.

Underneath the thin veneer of self-confidence, these two people possess a delicate innocence, and they are dealing with a noxious society. The Morocco here presented is defined by petty cash transactions and intoxicated with repressed homosexuals: not just Jaafar’s countless clients, but also the men who repeatedly raped him as a child. There’s hope for the younger generations, particularly as those coming from abroad offer them a refreshing out-of-the-closet approach to love. The g-word is no longer a taboo. The winds of change are blowing through the conservative Maghreb nation. Bring back the hedonistic 1970s!

Cabo Negro shows in the 58th edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Despite some flaws, this remains a warm and audacious little film.


By Victor Fraga - 06-07-2024

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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