Rock the Casbah (2013)

The acting is great- all were convincing as Moroccans with good accents and French language.  The highlight was Nadine Labaki’s performance, though a secondary role, she stole the scenes with her funny “bitchy” attitude and added many comic relief along with her Grandma.  Nadine is famous Lebanese director known for “Caramel” but she is also an acclaimed actress. The multi-talented Hiaam Abbas who appears in many foreign movies, she manages to reincarnate the role of a Moroccan mother with strict high values and morals.  -IMDB reviewer

Miriam (Nadine Labaki) and Kenza (Lubna Azabal) sit at each sside their mother Aicha (Hiam Abbas) during their father's wake.
Miriam (Nadine Labaki) and Kenza (Lubna Azabal) sit at each side their mother Aicha (Hiam Abbas) during their father’s wake.

This stereotype-defying film (a mix of comedy and drama) was part of the Arabian Sights Film Festival in DC.  It was written/directed by Laila Marrakchi, a young Moroccan woman.  I saw it this Fall (with 2 members of a movie Meetup) at the French Embassy; the main language in the film is French (with a good mix of Arabic and English). 

The ladies of the Hassan family find their thoughts drifting to the past.
The ladies of the Hassan family find their thoughts drifting to the past.

When patriarch Moulay Hassan (Omar Sharif) dies, his extended family, employees, and community gather at his palatial estate (in Marrakech by the coast) for his funeral.  We meet his strong widow, Aicha (internationally-renown Israeli Arab actress, Hiam Abbas, from The Visitor).  Moulay’s daughters are all quite unique women; there is NYC-based actress/black sheep Sofia (Morjana Alaoui) with her young son, glamorous/dramatic housewife Miriam (Nadine Labaki)- on the verge of an affair, and straight-laced/religious professor Kenza (Lubna Azabal) whose teen son wants to act on Broadway.  Sharif appears in a few scenes, adding a magical element of this fine film.       

Three sisters with very different lives come together.
Three sisters with very different lives come together.

We are put in the shoes of the outsider, Sofia, who has recently separated from her director husband (an Irish-American).  She hasn’t been home in many years; it was too painful to face the past (we learn why) and she has made a moderate success of herself in the U.S. (usually playing a terrorist).  Sofia’s adorable 6 year-old son, Noah, is excited about experiencing a new culture and playing with a large crew of cousins.  He’s hesitant to eat the new foods. 

Noah bonds with his grandfather, Moulay (Omar Sharif), in a few scenes.

When her reddish-haired grandmother comments that Sofia shouldn’t have married a “foreigner,” Sofia good-naturedly reminds the older lady that she was once a foreigner (being a French woman).  “But I married a Muslim and an Arab,” the grandmother says with a sly smile.  As the days go by, secrets are revealed about another sister, their beloved housekeeper Yacout (who raised all the girls, as well as her own son), and Moulay.  Sofia, who yearns for openness and honesty, is frustrated by (more conventional) sisters.  However, she doesn’t have to live in the strictly stratified, dualistic society (people pray in the morning, but don’t necessarily shy away from alcohol and dancing later in the day). 

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