“Punk’s not dead.”
What counts as an “action heroine” is dependent on culture. As was saw in Offside, if you’re Iranian, something as apparently normal as going to a football game can be a dangerously transgressive act. The heroine here, Malika (Ben Acha), has a little more freedom, living in Morocco, but it’s hardly an oasis of feminist freedom by Western standards. Still, she’s pretty out there, being the lead singer in a punk band, the titular Traitors, and also a dab hand with a monkey wrench, working intermittently in her father’s garage. It’s the former that she sees as her ticket out, and a door opens when a producer expresses interest in the band, and offers to help them record a demo. The catch? They have to pay for the studio time themselves: that’s several months’ wages, and it doesn’t help that Malika has just been fired. But a garage customer (Zeguendi) offers her a solution: a one-night job doing a little driving for him.
She’s under no illusions about the reality of what she’s driving, but on the journey from the mountains to Tangiers, she talks to her fellow “mule,” the veteran Amal (Issami), and discovers the unpleasant truths about those she’s working for – worse still, the people above them – as well as that leaving the organization will probably be a lot harder than joining it. When Malika finds out that Amal is pregnant, she hatches a plan that’s either very brave or extremely foolhardy (not that these things are mutually exclusive), to allow her colleague the change to escape. However, doing so will certainly bring down the wrath of her employers, who have a track record of not tolerating employee disloyalty with a forgiving eye.
This is one of those films that is on the fringes of qualification for the site. Malika doesn’t wield a gun or kick anyone’s arse, but there’s an exchange between the two young women which convinced me of its worth, and that in spirit at least, the heroine is part of the sisterhood we cover here.
Amal: “There was a proverb my mother used to say: if you are the nail, you must endure the knocking.”
Malika: “That’s only half of the proverb. The other part is: if you are the hammer, strike.”
I want that on a T-shirt, and it exemplifies Malika’s attitude perfectly: she’s a hammer made flesh, like her hero, the late Joe Strummer. Of course, the downside of that is, when you’re a hammer, everything else starts looking like a nail. However, Ben Acha does a good job of making a character that could easily have been obnoxious and abrasive, sympathetic instead. The film’s biggest weakness is a script that seems to run out of steam before the end, without anything like a satisfactory climax; instead, it peters out in a not very satisfactory and largely unconvincing manner. Perhaps this is related to this feature being developed out of a short film featuring the same character? Still, it’s a unique little item, and who knew there was such as thing as Moroccan punk – even if it’s every bit as shitty as much of the Western variety!
Dir: Sean Gullette
Star: Chaimae Ben Acha, Soufia Issami, Driss Roukhe, Mourade Zeguendi