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Reviews for May 14th, 2014

Horses of God

Directed by Nabil Ayouch

      Teenager Nabil (Hamza Souidek), his childhood friend, Yachine (Abdelhakim Rachid), and Yachine's older brother, Hamid (Abdelilah Rachid), live in Sidi Moumen, a slum located outside of the city of Casablanca. They spend their time playing soccer and doing drugs instead of going to school because they can't afford school. Yachine works selling oranges and had taken over the task of being the man of the house when the cops arrest Hamid for throwing a rock at their car and then throw him in jail. When Hamid returns home from prison, his way of thinking has changed because he's now an Islamic fundamentalist. He, along with Yachine, Nabil and their friend, Fouad (Ahmed El Idrissi Amrani), become gradually drawn into group of fundamentalists who brainwash them day after day---until they're forced to become suicide bombers with the promise of going to heaven where they'll have everything they've ever dreamed of.

      At its core, Horses of God is a character-driven drama with a dash of thriller aspects, but not the kind of edge-of-year-seat, nail-biting suspense kind. Screenwriter Jamal Belnahi grounds the film at ever turn by focusing on the daily lives of Yachine, Nabil and Hamid. Every detail that you see helps to humanize these young boys and make you feel sorry for them. By the time they learn how to be suicide bombers, you'll at least understand how they ended up that way given the combination of social, cultural, psychological and familial backgrounds. You can sense that something is wrong with their moral compass when they enable friends to rape Nabil after a wedding without having the courage to intervene and stop the rape from happening right before their eyes. Similarly, one of the boys kills a man without getting in trouble---the man's corpse is simply wrapped up in a sheet and taken away. Rarely does a screenwriter allow you to get inside the characters' heads in such an unflinchingly honest way. It's also worth mentioning that the inclusion of a few instances of comic relief that provide much-needed levity given the very heavy, grim subject matter. Why is the film called Horses of God? You'll have to find that out for yourself when you watch the film where the meaning does get explained in a very provocative scene.

      The plot takes its time to unfold, but there's not a scene that feels wasted or that drags thanks to director Nabil Ayouch and editor Damien Keyeux. On an aesthetic level, the cinematography by Hichame Alaouie is quite impressive especially during the aerial shots of Sidi Moemen. The images during final scenes which you might haunt you for days because they help to leave some room for your imagination which makes the film all the more quietly powerful without hitting you over the head.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Kino Lorber.
Opens at Film Forum.

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