De quelques événements sans signification

About Some Meaningless Events
Mostafa Derkaoui
1974

13.02.2019 15:00 Eng. subtitles Kino Arsenal 1
15.02.2019 20:00 Eng. subtitles Kino Arsenal 1

76 min. Arabic.

Around the port’s streets and popular bars of Casablanca, a group of filmmakers conduct discussions with people about their expectations of, and aspirations for, the emerging Moroccan national cinema. When a disgruntled worker kills his superior accidentally, their inquest shifts focus, and they begin to probe the context and motives of the killing. At the heart of De quelques événements sans signification is an interrogation on the role of cinema (and art) in society, documentary and the Real, and what constitutes an urgency for a national cinema that is being born. This unique filmic experience was conceived as an independent and collective effort of militant filmmakers, actors, musicians, poets and journalists at a time of heightened repression on freedom of expression in Morocco and was funded by the sale of paintings by several contemporary painters. The film was first screened in Paris in 1975 but was immediately taxed with censorship and forbidden from exhibition and export. It was forgotten until a negative print was found in the archives of the Filmoteca de Catalunya in 2016 and restored there. 45 years after its completion, the film will finally be released. (Rasha Salti)

Mostafa Derkaoui was born in Oujda, Morocco in 1944. Between 1963 and 1964, he studied at the French film school Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques (IDHEC, now La Fémis) in Paris before studying at the Polish film school Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Filmowa i Teatralna in Łódź from 1965 to 1972. In 1974, Derkaoui and his brother founded the production company Basma Productions. De quelques événements sans signification was his first feature-length film.

A collective project through and through

In January 1974, Mostafa Derkaoui returned to Casablanca from his studies at the film college in Łódź, Poland. Together with his brother Abdelkrim, he shot his first film in the city’s bars and streets, in the harbour and the poorer districts. The independently produced film was borne by a collective energy unique in the cultural history of the country, even if Moroccan cinema was only starting to develop at the time.
Censorship kept the film from being screened in public for so many years that, in the end, the participants could only remember the extraordinary shoot. And many people had participated: first of all, the modern painters (Melehi, Chebaa, Hamidi and others) who helped fund the film by selling their works; then the group of people who were always near Mostafa Derkaoui, most importantly his brother, but also the actors from the municipal theatre, the musicians of the popular group Jil Jalala, as well as the politically engaged writers, journalists and poets (Mostafa Nissabory and Mohamed Zeftzaf) – at least those who were not in prison.
For more than a decade, these rebellious spirits, most of whom had recently returned from studying art, film or literature abroad, had been subjected to strong repression. The magazine “Souffles”, which had offered them opportunities for free expression, was banned and its founder Abdellatif Laabi was arrested, along with many other underground sympathisers and activists of the Marxist-Leninist parties working towards revolution. Two failed military coups in 1971 and 1972 exacerbated the political situation in Morocco, intensifying the country’s isolation and King Hassan II’s accompanying repression. This background explains why the film was banned, as it depicts a Marxist youth culture and the revolt of a worker who kills his boss. Mostafa Derkaoui wanted to make a film about ‘a normal Moroccan and everything that can happen to him, and a film against authoritarian power relations’. A film aimed against those who consider themselves oppositional and hold aloft the ideals of emancipation, while actually helping oppress the people by acting as ‘henchmen of the regime’. In Derkaoui’s film, the rebels are not the director and his group of Marxist artist friends who interview people and reflect on culture and society; the rebel is the young man who kills his employer because he can no longer stand being exploited. (All quotations are from a talk between Mostafa Derkaoui and Léa Morin, held in June 2015 at Mostafa Derkaoui’s home)

A unique funding system

In a talk with Nourredine Sail, Mostafa Derkaoui explained (…) that his project should be understood as a ‘thoroughly collective work’. ‘That, I think, is its essence. And we wanted to preserve this collective character on all levels of the project. That’s why the production was also firmly grounded in the concrete material support of a number of Moroccan artists.’ Mostafa Derkaoui is alluding to the unique funding system that was invented to produce DE QUELQUES ÉVÉNEMENTS SANS SIGNIFICATION and guarantee the film’s independence. A number of renowned painters contributed, including Melehi, Hamidi, Chabaa, Bekkai, Miloud, Belcadi, Kacimi and Aziz Sayed. (Maghreb Information, talk with Nourredine Sail, April 1974)

A radical cinema

From the very beginning, ‘I didn’t want to work narratively or fictionally, but to examine cinema with means that grant me a better understanding of how it functions and to familiarise the audience with them as much as possible. While I was shooting my first feature-length film, DE QUELQUES ÉVÉNEMENTS SANS SIGNIFICATION, in Morocco, with Abdelkrim as cameraman, a phase began for us in which we could confront our idea of what film is, what it should investigate, with the reality out there (…).’ (Études cinématographiques, revue du FNCCM, July 1985, talk with Mostafa and Abdelkrim Derkaoui, conducted by Driss Chouika and Mohamed Kaouti)

Filmmakers did not have any rights 

In his still unpublished ‘A History of Moroccan Cinema’, the filmmaker and writer Ahmed Bouanani says that ‘this film’s shoot will go down in the annals of Moroccan film because never before did a similar project release so much enthusiasm and so much energy. (…) But the public will undoubtedly never have the opportunity to judge this work for itself. In every respect, this film – like others – drastically demonstrates to the novice as well as the cinephilic viewer that, in the ’70s and ’80s, Moroccan filmmakers did not have the right to use the camera in the way that, say, one uses a microscope in the lab, and that they had to accept certain constraints. At another time and under different circumstances – in other words, if an established Moroccan cinema had existed – the search for a new audiovisual language would presumably have met with good will and encouragement.’ (La septième porte. A History of Moroccan Cinema, 1907 to 1986, Ahmed Bouanani, 1987, unpublished. The book will soon appear with Kulte Editions, Rabat 2019.)

A different approach

Bouanani highlights the problem that in Morocco there is a ‘cinema of searching and exploring’ (‘cinéma de recherche’), comparable to the alternative or underground cinema that often develops as a counter-movement in countries with an already established film culture – and this is the case despite the fact that Moroccan cinema is still in its infancy. Derkaoui is aware of this, but refuses to produce ‘traditional’ cinema; he does not want to defer to the expectations of the public and the critics. After many years spent abroad studying film, the filmmaker wants to proceed ‘differently’ in his metier. In an interview with the poet Mostafa Nissaboury, he elucidates his reasons: ‘The structures of cinema are, on the one hand, incompatible with our way of seeing things; on the other hand, we want to try out something entirely our own, something that neither refers to the experiences of people in capitalist countries, nor to those in Third World countries, like Algeria, Egypt and Brazil.’ (Pour une dynamique du cinéma collectif, Mostafa Nissaboury, Integral, March/April 1974)

What is cinema?

This political film, situated between narrative and documentary film and banned by the censors, reflects on the nature of cinematic language and its relationship to society.
At a meeting with film students in Marrakech in February 2016, Mostafa spoke about his approach. ‘For me, cinema must speak for itself and must face the question, What is cinema? We approached people in the bistro or the harbour and asked them questions about cinema. Abbas Fassi-Fihri asks a woman, ‘What is your favourite film?’ She answers, ‘Moroccan cinema, of course, Moroccan films.’ At this point, Fassi-Fihri digs deeper, ‘Which Moroccan films have you seen, then?’ ‘None.’ Nonetheless, she likes Moroccan film best. One can like Moroccan cinema, even if no films are made there.’ (La Serre, Cyber Parc de Marrakech, Atelier de L’Observatoire, talk between Léa Morin and Mostafa Derkaoui)

The restoration of the film

After the end of the shoot, the 16mm original negative was developed in the Spanish laboratory Fotofilm. The editing was done in Morocco, and the material then moved from Madrid to Barcelona, where it was blown up from 16mm to 35mm. In 1975, the film was shown at a film festival in Paris. Since it was neither allowed to be shown or exported, its distribution from then on was restricted to secret screenings.
In the early 2000s, thanks to the collector Mostafa Dziri, a friend of Derkaoui, some VHS copies and later some low-quality DVDs circulated in cinephilic circles. In 2011, the filmmaker Ali Essafi used excerpts from the film in his short film WANTED. The original negatives went missing after the Fotofilm lab declared insolvency in 1999.
Only when Léa Morin, a film scholar specialising in the history of Moroccan cinema, began her research in 2016 did she come across the negatives in the Filmoteca de Catalunya in Barcelona. This discovery and the ensuing correspondence between her, the Derkaoui brothers and the team at the Filmoteca de Catalunya led to the protracted restoration of the film, so that forty years after it was made it could finally be discovered and shown internationally.
The film was restored in parallel to Léa Morin’s research (L’Observatoire, art et recherche). The latter led to a book, an exhibition and a series of events in which filmmakers, art historians, film critics and artists took part.
With the support of L’Observatoire, the Musée Collectif de Casablanca, the Filmoteca de Catalunya, the Arab Fund for Art and Culture (AFAC), Akademie Schloss Solitude and Kibrit.

What Moroccan film does and does not do

The film shows a group of filmmakers, drunk on wine and Marxist principles. They ask themselves what the collective purpose of their art is, and they look for a theme for their film (...). Since they want to launch a debate about cinema, the group goes out into Casablanca, seeking a hypothetical public that would allow them work on something related to audience expectations. Encounter follows encounter, statement follows statement. ‘Politically engaged Moroccan cinema,’ they say, ‘has to take an interest in the problems of society.’ – ‘Moroccan cinema doesn’t even exist.’ – ‘As viewers, we find it difficult to say what you should do.’ – ‘Shoot a film first, then we can talk about it.’ – ‘I love Moroccan cinema. I would take part in any Moroccan production,’ avers a young employee of the prefecture. (Reda Zaireg, Le cinéma marocain confronté au réel, Orient XXI, November 2017)

(Texts compiled by Léa Morin)

Production Mostafa Derkaoui. Production company Basma Production (Casablanca, Morocco). Written and directed by Mostafa Derkaoui. Cinematography Mohamed Abdelkrim Derkaoui. Editing Mostafa Derkaoui. Music Jazz-Band "Nahorny". Sound Stan Wiszniewski, Noureddine Gounejjar, Larbi Essakalli, Miloud Bourbouh, Menouar Samiri. Digital restoration Centre de Conservació i Restauració de la Filmoteca de Catalunya, Barcelona, L’Observatoire, le Musée Collectif de Casablanca. With Abdellatif Nour, Abbas Fassi-Fihri, Hamid Zoughi, Mostafa Dziri, Aïcha Saâdoun, Mohamed Derham, Salah-Eddine Benmoussa, Abdelkader Moutaâ, Khalid Jamaï, Chafik Shimi, Malika El Mesrar, Omar Chenbout, Mostafa Nissabouri.

World sales Léa Morin | Observatoire

Films

1964: Les quatre murs. 1968: Amghar (4 min.), Adoption (4 min.). 1969: Les gens du caveau (20 min.), Les États généraux du Cinéma. 1970: Un jour quelque part (20 min.). 1974: De quelques événements sans signification / About Some Meaningless Events. 1976: Les cendres du clos (105 min., collective film). 1982: Les beaux jours de Chahrazade (97 min.). 1984: Titre provisoire (120 min.). 1988: La femme rurale au Maroc. 1992: Fiction première (120 min.), Le silence (18 min., episode of omnibus film La Guerre du golfe …. et après?). 1993: Le doux murmure du vent après l’orage (22 min.). 1994: Je(u) au passé (81 min.), Les sept portes de la nuit (100 min.), La grande allégorie (67 min.). 2000: Les amours de haj Mokhtar Soldi (130 min.). 2003: Casablanca by Night (100 min.). 2004: Casablanca Daylight (100 min.).

Photo: © Observatoire/Filmoteca de Catalunya/Basma