There’s often an extra dimension to films that are inspired by the director’s own life. Nabil Ayouch (2015 drama Much Loved) draws on his own life in this story of a Anas (Anas Basbousi), a former rapper living in the Sidi Moumen suburb of Casablanca who takes a job teaching young people his craft at an arts centre. Awakening ideas and confidence in the class, he encourages them to work to put on a concert.
There’s an understated tone throughout this drama that seems to belie the depth of the subject matter. Reading the synopsis may bring to mind a million corny American dramas where a teacher tries to reach their kids through unusual means, but there’s a sincerity to Anas’ mission. He believes in the power of hip-hop as a vehicle to tell unheard stories, it proves effective, with natural performances creating tension within the classroom, as Anas succeeds where his overstretched colleagues fail.
The fiercely localised subject matter can be a challenge for outsiders. While the energy of the performances are felt in any language, there is a barrier that forms when you have to have rap translated. As shown in shows like Squid Game, little nuances can be lost in translation. Also, the cultural debates can be difficult to wade through. Emboldened to talk about their lives, the students inevitably clash on issues of religion and societal expectations. There are of course parallels the world over, but they are scenes that are best observed rather than judged.
Like its lead, Casablanca Beats is an unassuming film that does a lot with relatively meagre resources. In treating hip hop as an art form rather than cultural currency, Ayouch creates a new and interesting way of celebrating his roots.
Casablanca Beats is in cinemas from 29th April.