My TIFF experience marched on with Wednesday’s screening of the Moroccan film Death for Sale. I approached this movie with some apprehension because what I know about Morrocco… well, frankly what I know about Morroco I learned from Casablanca. I don’t often watch contemporary foreign films for that very reason. I always have the sneaking suspicion that there’s a lot of cultural context that I’m missing. But Death for Sale was billed as a film noir, and film noir I know. While I still felt there was a lot of nuance escaping me as I watched the movie, there were enough classic film noir elements to keep me firmly rooted in the narrative and to give me a broader context in which to read the film.
Director Faouzi Bensaidi sets his film in the Moroccan port city of Tetouan. Times are tough in Tetouan, especially for trio of friends Malik, Allal, and Soufiane. The three are chronically unemployed and eke out an existence through petty thievery and other minor acts of criminal mischief. But like all desparate people (and petty thieves) everywhere, all three dream of bigger and better things. And thus we have a heist in the works. Despite some minor details like Soufiane’s tangent into radical Islam, Death for Sale travels the very familiar film noir path, complete with betrayal and a one bad-ass femme fatale.
Death for Sale does veer from what I think of a film noir is some ways. The pacing felt somewhat off to me. In fairness, pacing is another component that makes me wary of watching foreign films. Pacing in narrative and visual media is mostly likely influenced by the cultural pacing of your own life, and I suspect the pace of life in Morocco is very different from my own. I did eventually adapt to the rhythm of Death for Sale and, ultimately, I read the narrative pacing as reflective of the stasis that Malik, Allal, and Soufiane find themselves trapped in.
The cinematography also threw me off balance at first. I expect film noir to present visual images of sharp contrast. Tetouan is trapped between mountains and a perennial low, gray sky. It’s like an opposite end of a film noir spectrum… instead of those stark contrasts every thing is rendered in a fuzzy, oblique, difficult to read flat. Again, stylistically, the cinematography is a mirror of the characters lives and works in the end. In keeping with the visual tone, the narrative tone is sometime oblique as well. We’re treated to some day-dream kind of sequences from Malik, another cinema trope I don’t expect to find in a film noir.
All that said, Death for Sale is a film noir, all be it a modern Moroccan one. And, ladies and gents, I’ve seen some hardcore noir and the final denouement of Death for Sale ranks with any of them.
I don’t have any current information regarding the wider release date for Death for Sale. You can watch the trailer here: