Faouzi Bensaïdi’s Death for Sale: a thriller revisited
by Aurore Engelen
11/06/2012 - Caught between the sea and the mountains, Tetouan, a city of 350,000 inhabitants, grows upwards, grabbing all the space it can get. It’s the town of resourcefulness, where even honest salesmen are accomplished dealers and brave sisters who labour away in a factory to feed their families also bring home some of the products to resell. With absent or disinterested parents, lost in alcohol fumes, young men are brought up on images of Tony Montana. For Malik, Allal, and Soufiane, Tetouan is a town of giddiness. Malik (Fehd Benchemsi), in his mid-twenties, is giddy with love for the beautiful and volatile Dounia. Allal (Mouhcine Malzi), 30, a tough ex-convict, is giddy on easy money. And then there is Soufiane (Fouad Lebied, the young hero of A Thousand Months), an 18-year-old high school drop-out who is rebellious but easily manipulated, and whose life seems to have taken the course of hate. These three characters meet on the streets of their neighbourhood and join forces to plan a heist. No more petty theft, this time it's serious! They are going to rob the old Christian’s jewellery shop. But several characters will persist in upsetting their plan: the beautiful Dounia, sex worker by night and gold digger by day, Malik’s sister, a rejected and dishonoured woman in love, whose suicide will unleash Malik’s rage, and a corrupt policeman looking for unscrupulous informers...
Director Faouzi Bensaïdi made a name for himself at the end of the 1990s with three award-winning short films that made the round of film festivals (The Cliff, The Wall, and Journeys). In 2003, his first film, A Thousand Months, was selected for Un Certain Regard in Cannes, thus confirming his ongoing international critical acclaim. His next film What a Wonderful World [trailer] was selected for the Venice Days, while Death for Sale won the CICAE Prize in the Panorama section of the last Berlinale in February. With Death for Sale, now competing at the Brussels Film Festival, Bensaïdi digs further in a vein similar to that of his previous film, a new, re-contextualised reading of a genre film. It features the same ingredients: gangsters and deals, dodgy night clubs, dead bodies in car boots, and sex workers with big hearts but dispensable morals, all to a backdrop of unemployment and veiled workers, in a saturated climate of social tension and rising extremism. It’s a classic linear tale whose initial lightness slowly gives way to increasingly dramatic tension that culminates in the film’s two-part ending. The mise-en-scene is free, inspired by the town’s architecture, its oppressive walls, and the horizontal lines of the sea, the walls, and the cliffs. Poetry lies in a romantic rendez-vous, or during the final, astounding scene. Humour is delicately insinuated, notably through the character of the corrupt cop, played by Bensaïdi (who also acted for Nabil Ayouch and André Techiné), whose innocent appearance so clashes with his perverse character. Death for Sale is a classic but playful thriller that could have been trimmed a little (some characters are too developed while others are not enough, which is frustrating), but that shines overall thanks to its poetic and aesthetic brilliance.
Death for Sale is produced by Belgian production company Entre chien et loup (who also produced A Thousand Months, Faouzi Bensaïdi’s first feature), Une liaison cinématographique, and Heimat Films. The project took part in the Atelier de la Cinéfondation in Cannes, and was unveiled at the last Berlinale. It should be released in Belgium by Dream Touch, and sold worldwide by Urban Distribution.
(Translated from French)