A Thousand Months Review

Set in small Moroccan village, A Thousand Months (Mille Mois) interweaves the lives of a number of characters, focussed around one small boy, into a colourful and humorous representation of the richness of life in a community in conflict, living under a repressive police state.

Medhi lives in the small village with his mother Amina and his grandfather. He has been told that his father is in France, but in reality he is in prison – unjustly we are told – which is the reason for the family’s move from Casablanca to this remote drought-stricken village, to be able to visit him in prison. Amina works as a cleaner for the kaïd, who appears to be the mayor, or senior official in the village. While she works there, Medhi visits the room of the kaïd’s daughter, Malika. Malika is a bit of a rebel, telling the young boy of her attendance at demonstrations while smoking, applying make-up and playing western music during the holy month.

The film at first doesn’t make it easy for you to work out who is who, what is going on or even where we are, but gradually things start falling into place and characters emerge, interact with other characters and move the story into place for the tumultuous conclusion. It transpires that in the opening scene of all the villagers on the hill staring expectantly at the sky, they are waiting for the new moon that announces the holy month of Ramadan, a month of fast and religious observance the conclusion of which is the holiest night of the year and worth more than ‘a thousand months’. For the first half of the film, this seems to have a peculiar effect on the lives of the characters. Tensions are high and conflicts seem to arise over the simplest of incidents. Everywhere life seems to be interrupted, unable to follow its normal course. The grandfather praying has to struggle to get a hen off his prayer mat; Medhi throws stones to chase off a rabid dog; the TV channel breaks down during an important serial; the TV station manager is threatened by the clients of the café who were watching the show; a man collecting water chases a goatherd from his field; two men attack a motorcyclist and steal his bike; Malika is harassed by the other passengers in a taxi for wearing make-up; Amina is subjected to arrest when a scene arises outside the prison where she is waiting to visit her husband; Medhi, the teachers pet and guardian of his chair, is forced to administer punishment to the other boys and soon suffers the consequences of this. The film flits between these scenes of conflict without much in the way of explanation as to what is important and relevant to the storyline and what is not or how it all fits together. The overall impression this creates however is one of a continuous struggle to survive and express oneself, while being constantly watched, interrupted, frowned upon or even arrested.

The film’s tone changes dramatically in the second half, signalled by the end of Ramadan and a downpour that ends the long drought. The situations between the characters are no less conflicting, but appear much less serious, evolving into farcical situations. The village beauty Saadia becomes engaged to the new kaïd despite being courted by the TV station manager (who it transpired had cut the TV broadcast so that he could recite the story for the ears of Saadia alone) and wooed by the teacher, who recites his love poem to her over television (and hilariously finds himself cut-off by the station manager). Events come to a head at the colourful and eventful wedding, when all the characters come together and half-forgotten incidents from earlier in the film have unexpected and uproarious consequences.

The film’s abrupt change of tone and structure, from elliptical episodes of struggle and conflict to comedic farce appears to work against the serious tone and almost political intent of the first half of the film, but in actuality it forms a perfect whole, covering many other aspects of Moroccan life and is deftly handled by the director. Boldly ambitious for a first film, Faouzi Bensaïda handles a myriad of complex themes and characters, invisibly blending professional and non-professional actors and interweaving many different threads of varying tones into a colourful tapestry that is seeped in all the richness, tradition and culture of Morocco, as well as all the concerns, emotions, troubles and joys of life.

The film contains many dark scenes, but colours in the anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer are rich and colourful. The image is rather soft, on occasions, particularly in wider shots, looking somewhat blurred. There are numerous instances of compression artefacts, with thin vertical lines tending to break-up. Overall though the image is more than acceptable and the film looks quite impressive in its scope ratio, with some beautiful location photography and striking compositions.

The film comes to DVD with a basic Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, but it is sharp and accurate, fully handling the demands of the film.

English subtitles are mandatory, but are clearly readable.

Trailer (1:49)
An unsubtitled trailer is shown at letterboxed at 2.35:1.

Edinburgh Festival Promo (2:25)
Presented at 1.85:1 anamorphic, this is just a montage of the 57th Edinburgh Festival set to music, with emphasis on the Film Festival. A Thousand Months is released as part of the Disoveries series, a programme to draw attention to new filmmaking talent and it is co-sponsored by The Edinburgh Film Festival and BBC Four.

BBC Four Promo (1:00)
Likewise, this is just an advert for international cinema on BBC Four.

A Thousand Months is an impressive film from Moroccan director, Faouzi Bensaïda showing ambition and a sense of accomplishment far beyond expectations of a debut film. Its multi-stranded narrative of a culture and tradition that is foreign to us might disorient the viewer initially, but gradually personalities and characteristics that are common to everyone shine through in unexpected ways, creating a fabulously rich and rewarding film.

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