Morocco’s 2015 submission to the Oscars, Driss Mrini’s "Aida" is a film about a Moroccan music professor who, struck by terminal brain cancer, decides to leave Paris to return to Morocco. There she reunites with her childhood love, Youssef Alami, and an uneasy romance ensues-- he’s married with two children but he rediscovers himself and his musical past through her.
The film presents itself as a story about "a Jewish Moroccan woman," leading us to believe that the film will delve into questions on Jewish Moroccan identity and (as implied by the film’s subtitle "la Revenante") the return of a member of the Jewish Moroccan diaspora to the homeland. However, Judaism has little to do with the story Mrini presents-- Judaism is merely an empty facade...
Throughout the introduction of the film we are drowned in a flood of Jewish symbolism and imagery-- Jews seem to only exist with kippahs on their heads and dine in bizzare living rooms with not one, but three lit menorahs. To be clear, the Menorah is an ornament that is only lit during hannukah (when only a single menorah is lit in the household) and kippahs are not worn on a daily basis as a fashion statement.
Mrini beats these overdone and cliché Jewish images into our heads for the first quarter of the film then, suddenly-- pulls the rug of Jewish identity from underneath our feet when we realize, and perhaps the director himself realizes, that her Jewish identity is completely irrelevant to the plot.
As soon as Youssef enters the story his character takes on more importance than Aida herself. We are abruptly diverted from a story of return to the homeland to a story of romance between a woman and her childhood crush-- a story that could have easily taken place between any member of the Moroccan diaspora regardless of their religious identity.
Even at the level of exploring the relationship between diaspora and homeland, the film is deficient. It barely exposes the cultural and emotional distance that develops amongst members of the diaspora. Instead it creates a sheltered bourgeois world where life in the diaspora and life back home seem almost the same.
In fact, the return to Morocco doesn’t feel like a return at all. Aida comes back to a Morocco that is essentially empty of Moroccans, it is a place where almost every one speaks French and where even the film’s location choices give us a sensation of being in Europe: we move between bourgeois neighbourhoods, a slow motion shot of Aida walking in front of a church and various meetings at the marina. Even the most "authentically" Moroccan spaces are Europeanized. For example, the old medina in Essaouira is filled with European hippies dancing.
What we could call the "average" Moroccan only enters the frame as a comic element (the old woman in the house in Essaouira, the security guard in front of the luxurious apartment complex). It seems that mocking the working class is the only path Mrini seems to find for including what constitutes the majority of Morocco’s population in the film.
The technical and artistic aspects of the film are no better than its stereotypical plotline and its political incorrectness. The acting is often mediocre and melodramatic, the cinematography inconsistent (with a colour correction that varies widely and seems completely unmotivated and unessential to understanding the film), an unnecessarily heavy use of effects for flashback sequences, and an unoriginal Hollywoodian cinematography which unsuccessfully aims for beautiful and complex shots for no other reason but to show off beautiful and complex shots.
However the most disappointing artistic and technical aspect of the film is the soundtrack. Considering the fact that Aida is a music academic and researcher, that her father and Youssef were part of an Andalusian orchestra and that the film emphasizes Andalusian music as a theme-- how is it possible that a soundtrack is less characterized by Andalusian music (or Jewish-Moroccan music in general) than it is by the sounds and composition of an American blockbuster film gone amiss? The musical theme of the film is quickly thrown at us, but never explored past a surface level treatment.