- CANNES 2023: Kamal Lazraq’s debut feature is a gritty crime-drama set in the suburbs of Casablanca, enriched by the presence of sharp dialogue and a microcosm of ruthless characters
After Maryam Touzani’s moving The Blue Caftan [+see also:
film profile], this year, Moroccan cinema brings another great film to the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival. Kamal Lazraq’s debut feature, Hounds, is a gritty crime-drama set in and around the suburbs of Casablanca. The premise is simple and gripping: Dib (Abdellah Lebkiri), a mobster who loses a mutt after a dog fight, thinks his opponent’s one was doped and is determined to take revenge. Dib sends a desperate low-end trafficker in his fifties, called Hassan (Abdellatif Masstouri), to kidnap one of the rival’s middlemen. The guy was particularly cruel towards the animal, as he even kicked his corpse after he died. Hassan clearly seems unfit for the task at hand and brings along his young son Issam (Ayoub Elaid). However, things rapidly go awry, and the henchman dies of suffocation in the boot of their shabby minivan. It’s the beginning of a downward spiral, and there seems to be no way out.
Most of the picture’s compelling narrative is driven by two main conflicts. The first occurs between Hassan and Issam. There’s very little trust between them, and each believes they know best how to handle the absurd situation they are in, ultimately complicating things even further. The second, meanwhile, is between Hassan and Issam and the rich microcosm of lowlifes they meet along the way. They are either ruthless towards them or simply unable to help them, forcing the duo to wander around and look for the most desperate solutions.
They are both mechanisms that are present and well oiled in numerous other crime-dramas – the first that perhaps resembles Lazraq’s film is Alessandro Piva’s 2003 effort My Brother-in-Law [+see also:
film profile]. In it, a seemingly honest man and his criminal brother-in-law try to find the former’s stolen car over the course of one night. However, here, these elements are staged well, and they are supported by an excellent cast.
And in fact, the idea of setting the story over the course of one night is also particularly effective: most of the events portrayed are fast-paced, and we clearly feel the sense of danger and fear that our two leads experience. On many occasions, we are afraid that Hassan and Issam could get busted at any moment – either because of their stubbornness or just because they are unlucky. Sometimes deliberately, sometimes less so, their inexperience and impulsivity trigger several tragicomic moments (among these is a failed attempt to hide the corpse in a well that’s probably less than a metre deep) and some more “humane” interactions between the characters (for example, Issam initially refuses to give one dirham to a child who is begging for money but, likely feeling guilty about his actions, he calls him back and asks if he can pray for him). These tiny dramaturgical additions contribute to making the feature even more “authentic”, gifting great depth to the lead characters. Finally, Amine Berrada’s low-key cinematography and P.R2B’s score are the icing on the cake, as they fit in perfectly with this absurd, frenetic manner of storytelling.
Hounds is a French-Moroccan-Belgian-Qatari co-production staged by Barney Production, Mont Fleuri Production and Beluga Tree. Charades handles its international sales.
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