Volubilis (2017)

Director: Faouzi Bensaïdi
Writer: Faouzi Bensaïdi
Cast: Mouhcine Malzi, Nadia Kounda, Abdelhadi Talbi, Faouzi Bensaïdi, Nezha Rahile
Part of: We Are One Film Festival
Seen on: 06.06.2020

Malika (Nadia Kounda) and Abdelkader (Mouhcine Malzi) have not been married long and are still in the process of building their life together. For now, they live with his family, which is uncomfortable in many ways, and work both – Malika as a house maid and Abdelkader as a security in a shopping center. Abdelkader takes his job very seriously. When he isn’t deferential, but outright aggressive to a shopper who is married to an important man, the consequences are dire for him. The resulting humiliation has him spiraling and threatens to bring down his life with Malika before it ever really began.

Volubilis packs a lot of social criticism – and while I usually love that, in this case, I just didn’t really connect emotionally with the film, making the criticism feel a lot weaker than it should have felt.

The film poster showing Malika (Nadia Kounda) and Abdelkader (Mouhcine Malzi) leaning close together.

The film centers the relationship between Malika and Abdelkader at first and impressively shows how their precarious positions as poor working class is entirely dependent on the goodwill of rich people. When that goodwill is lost because Abdelkader actually thinks that the rules apply to everyone (despite the fact that he witnesses every day how the shopping center courts rich people by providing them with running escalators it denies everybody else), it doesn’t just mean that Abdelkader is in trouble personally – it means that their entire family is affected.

Unfortunately, the film soon shifts away from the relationship between the two to focus much more on Abelkader. Malika is soon reduced to worrying about him while trying to keep all of them afloat with her meagre income. I would have liked more balance in thei relationship, but even more importantly in the way the film divides its attention between the two of them.

Malika (Nadia Kounda) waiting for a customer with the other women in her maid service.

That was probably the reason why I just didn’t get that emotionally invested into the film. Although there are beautiful, touching moments throughout the film (when Malika is rebuffed by her employer because Malika tries to empathize with her or when Abdelkader and Malika are in the shopping center having cold drinks while having intense eye contact – though it was mostly the music in that moment that makes it work so much), I won’t deny that at all.

Volubilis is not a bad film, it’s just a film that doesn’t quite land where it should.

Malika (Nadia Kounda) holding Abdelkader's (Mouhcine Malzi) face.

Summarizing: maybe it will work for you.

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