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KARLOVY VARY Proxima

Review: Cabo Negro

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- Abdellah Taïa’s sophomore feature is an excessively subtle queer tale, dominated by excruciating slowness and sketchy character development

Review: Cabo Negro
Oumaima Barid and Youness Beyej in Cabo Negro

Watching slow cinema at its finest is a joy – or is at least an intriguing experience – especially when silences are able to convey what words can’t, opening up new layers of meaning and exploiting the power of the moving picture at its best. When this doesn’t happen, however, most viewers will experience one of the most displeasing feelings – boredom and, if things go from bad to worse, a sense of annoyance. Abdellah Taïa’s sophomore feature, Cabo Negro, which world-premiered in the Proxima Competition at this year’s Karlovy Vary IFF, takes a heavily contemplative approach, which risks being excruciating for many and surely challenging for all.

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The paper-thin plot follows two people in their early twenties, Jaâfar (played by Youness Beyej) and Soundouss (Oumaima Barid), who arrive at a large, sun-drenched villa in the titular Moroccan resort town. They are supposed to be hosted by a wealthy US man called Jonathan. They say they are working as his research assistants, but we soon find out that Jonathan is actually Jaâfar’s lover. Jonathan doesn’t show up, so the pair spend their time bathing and relaxing. When they run out of money, they don’t simply decide to go home or find a straightforward way to earn a bit of cash, as one would expect, but rather, they both light-heartedly sell their bodies to strangers – including the homophobic villa owner who wants to kick them out. And, beyond this premise, there’s little more to tell.

This whole “story” is told with incredibly slow pacing. We see the camera capturing everyday actions in their entirety – particularly things like pouring tea, preparing and cooking groceries, reading, going for a stroll, sleeping together and many other menial activities. The dialogue is sparse, and the all-too-present silences often don’t appear to be justified. While the characters might have lost their sense of time, the extremely realistic fashion in which this movie is shot reminds the audience that every second in real life is passing by – and sometimes one might feel like two or three.

Over the course of the last third of the movie, things seem to get slightly spicier, but it’s not enough to change the overall impression a viewer might get of this feature – we witness Jaâfar’s quick fling with a French-Moroccan man called Mounir, plus we get a few basic facts about the former's past that he reveals to Soundouss, but little more than that. And of course, there are a few hints about the hardships of being queer in today’s Morocco – the villa owner is hateful enough, and bathers look perplexed as they watch two men holding hands while sunbathing. However, these elements are not provided with enough depth in terms of writing and character development, ultimately resulting in a clunky slice-of-life drama that frankly has little of import to tell and seriously risks trying the audience’s patience.

Cabo Negro was produced by France’s Barney Production together with Moroccan outfits Mont Fleuri Production and Sihamou.

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