Raja

What begins as a sorry exercise in cynical seduction becomes a case of amour fou in this story about a Frenchman's pursuit of a Moroccan teenager. Lecherous, middle-aged Frederic (Pascal Greggory) becomes besotted with an unlikely object of desire: 19-year-old Raja (Najat Benssallem), a gangly goose of a girl with a horsy smile who works in the garden of...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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What begins as a sorry exercise in cynical seduction becomes a case of amour fou in this story about a Frenchman's pursuit of a Moroccan teenager. Lecherous, middle-aged Frederic (Pascal Greggory) becomes besotted with an unlikely object of desire: 19-year-old Raja (Najat Benssallem), a gangly goose of a girl with a horsy smile who works in the garden of his luxurious villa outside Marrakech. Writer-director Jacques Doillon takes a situation that's usually the stuff of erotic fantasy and shines a cold light on its complications, mercilessly revealing the larger framework of race, class, age and privilege from which Raja and Frederic can never extricate themselves. A narcissistic hedonist, Frederic justifies his pursuit as a last-ditch effort to stave off the death of desire. He knows that old men who chase young girls are fundamentally pathetic and ignoble but he's sufficiently self-pitying enough to believe that aging lechers are actually the victims of cruel youth. Everything divides them, starting with language: Frederic speaks a smattering of Arabic and Raja knows a few words of French, so they rely on intermediaries, mostly Frederic's elderly cooks (Oum El Aid Ait Youss and Zineb Ouchita). The cooks peg Raja for a hustler and tailor their translations accordingly. Frederic appears to hold all the high cards — money, experience, education, the lingering authority of French colonial privilege and, as a man, the freedom to indulge in sexual adventures without repercussions. Raja is poor, orphaned, uneducated and precariously dependent on the whims of men — if her older brother says he has promised her to a policeman in Casablanca, she has little choice but to get married or face brutal consequences. She lives with her best friend Nadira's (Ilham Abdekwahed) family, keenly aware that they have no obligation to shelter her, and occasionally prostitutes herself to get money for her unemployed, on-again off-again boyfriend, Youssef (Hassan Khissal). And yet the relationship between Raja and Frederic is anything but simple. Frederic's calculations give way to a desperate, obsessive desire to make Raja want him, while the opportunistic Raja — under the circumstances, she could hardly be otherwise — resists everything she knows about turning situations to her advantage and lets stubborn, perversely self-destructive pride dictate her actions. The fragile yet genuine feelings woven into this tangle of self-interest and mutual exploitation are inevitably trampled in the ferociously frustrating dance of desire and resentment that ensues, building to a conclusion that's both inevitable and infinitely sad. (In French and Arabic, with English subtitles.)

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: What begins as a sorry exercise in cynical seduction becomes a case of amour fou in this story about a Frenchman's pursuit of a Moroccan teenager. Lecherous, middle-aged Frederic (Pascal Greggory) becomes besotted with an unlikely object of desire: 19-year… (more)

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