Thursday, October 13, 2011

NYFF ’11: Traitors (short)

They are like the Runaways of Tangier, except a Moroccan all-women punk group really is rather rebellious, just in its very existence. Yet, family issues will preoccupy their fiery lead singer over the course of a typically eventful day for the band in Sean Gullette’s Traitors, which screens this Saturday as part of the 49th New York Film Festival’s Shorts Program #2.

Best known as the ragged mathematician in Darren Aronofsky’s Pi, Gullette makes his directorial debut with Traitors (that is with an anarchy sign for the “a”), named after the band fronted by Malika. The camera truly loves hitherto unknown Chaimae Ben Acha as the lead singer, even the handheld digitals used by Gullette’s cinematographers Benoït Peverilli and Niko Tavernise. If there is one future international star represented at this year’s festival, it must be Acha.

For one thing, she can really belt it out Joan Jett style. We first encounter Traitors rehearsing a song that tells us all we need know about their opinion of Morocco’s cops and politicians. Not much. In need of cash for an upcoming gig, Malika naturally plans to “borrow” some from her elegant professional-class mother. However, in the process of rifling through her parents’ room she learns an upsetting secret.

As Malika and her bandmates careen through the night, we get a visceral sense of the Tangier underground youth culture. When the cops show up, they do their best to live up to Traitors’ cynical assessment. Yet, aside from petty public corruption, Gullette’s film avoids the larger potential macro conflicts. Just what the local religious authorities would think of the band is left to viewers’ imagination. Still, crude sexism and unwelcomed lechery seem to be fairly widespread among the Moroccan men Malika encounters.

Acha gives a knockout performance, but she is not carrying the film alone. Firouz Rahal Bouzid and Abdesslam Bounouacha also contribute wonderfully human supporting turns as Malika’s parents. Running just over half an hour, Traitors is no mere sketch. By any standards of dramatic cinema, it is a wholly satisfying, self-contained film. A real discovery, Traitors screens this Saturday (10/15), as a selection of Shorts Program #2 at the 2011 NYFF.