Release Date – 29th April 2022, Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 42 minutes, Director – Nabil Ayouch
Through the help of their teacher (Anas Basbousi), a group of teenagers at a cultural centre learn how to overcome the shackles of politics and tradition through the expression of hip-hop and rap.
Shortly after the idea enters the mind that Casablanca Beats has links to the likes of School Of Rock a poster for the film appears in the background, on the classroom wall. A wall filled with its fair share of colours, posters and graffiti – just some of the ways in which the teenage students are introduced to a safe space in which they can discuss and express themselves. It’s a box from the outside world where they learn about rap and hip-hop from their teacher Anas (Anas Basbousi) – perhaps a former rapper himself – using the music and lyrics which they create to express themselves and release their anger and stresses over the politics and traditions in their country through the attitude in their delivery.
While not quite a film that has the students standing on their desks reciting “O captain, my captain” the focus isn’t quite on the effects that Anas has, but more the effects that rap has, Anas acting as more of a catalyst and support. It comes across in the relatively plotless nature of the film, instead detailing the change and development experienced by the handful of teenagers in the class. The way in which they are impacted by the music and their lives change due to them trying to take more control and action – sometimes through the expression of rap itself, one key scene involves young teenager Nouhaila (Nouhaila Arif) pouring out her feelings through her rhymes to her controlling older brother. There’s a brief strand for each of the central figures, depicting their repressive home lives and what their own lyrics are fighting against. These don’t exactly create any form of narrative, although show an individual arc of sorts for each figure, and perhaps because of this there’s an occasionally disjointed nature to the piece with its scene-by-scene nature.
Yet, all comes together in full-class debates and conversations regarding politics and beliefs. Thoughts and opinions flying around the room in extended sequences. While some feel a bit lengthy, the film itself gets out just before it feels like it may go on for a bit too long, there’s still enough interest in what’s being discussed to keep you engaged in the moment. Perhaps the most interesting point is that such conversations are being held in what feels like a fairly family-friendly film (albeit one with a couple of f-bombs). The BBFC 12 rating is certainly justified, but there still feels like a relatively universal (maybe not quite for the younger kids, though) feel to director Nabil Ayouch’s film, and his screenplay co-written with Maryam Touzani, once again bringing about that School Of Rock connection. It helps to further bring to life what the students are facing, and to some extent Anas as he tries to fight against parents perceptions of what he is teaching – and at times the heads of the arts centre he is teaching at.
Things come together to create an interesting and engaging film that works because of the way it focus on the effect of rap on the students over anything else. Showing them opening up and beginning to attempt to take more control of their own lives amidst the restrictions of their families and country’s traditions. While the occasional glimpses into these separate family lives does create something of a slightly disjointed feel to the film there’s still plenty to like, and a slight connection formed with the figures on screen – even if not quite on an individual level. Things move along rather well and you’re generally well-engaged throughout with your interest in the development of the characters, shown in the conversations and debates which they engage in with increasing confidence – moving from the classroom to the streets to the potential of the stage. It works well in its vein, allowing the music and lyrics to speak for themselves and help move things along at the character’s pace, simply adding another layer to the nature of the development.
There’s an interesting nature to the School Of Rock-esque feel of Casablanca Beats, while allowing the rap to move and develop things within the scene-by-scene nature of the occasionally disjointed narrative. Holding your involvement and interest for the most part, particularly when it comes to the growth and change of the central class.