Time Out says
This inspirational Moroccan hip-hop drama sparks but never catches fire
Shaven headed, living in a car and sporting a bullet necklace, ex-rapper Anas (Anas Basbousi) makes an unlikely addition to the roll call of inspiring movie teachers in this spiky, politically energised hip-hop drama from French-Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch (Mektoub).
Anas arrives at a cultural centre in the Casablanca suburb of Sidi Moumen as a kind of musical sensei: he’s there to train a group of arts students in the art of spitting, rhyming and freestyling. There’s an instant gender divide, with the boys raps inauthentically parroting US rapper clichés and the girls cutting straight to the core.
That political urgency reflects a post-Arab Spring generation sick to death of old realities – and female voices are key to it in Casablanca Beats. Religion, poverty and patriarchal traditions are all savaged in regular blasts of Arabic rapping, while booming bass lines clash with the sound of the muezzin.
Using raw, in-your-face filmmaking grammar, Ayouch keeps the frame filled with energy and creative tension. Laurent Cantet’s 2008 schoolroom drama The Class is an obvious parallel in the way its communal is captured in lurching, jerkycam close-ups as a fractious, combative, raucous forming ground for young minds.
But the camera gets much closer to these characters than we ever do, with Ayouch swerving meatier subplots in favour of vignettes that never quite do justice to these hard-scrabble lives.
The same applies to Anas, whose back story Ayouch proves oddly reluctant to investigate. One of the film’s best shots has him in shallow focus on a rooftop, backdropped by an ocean of supplicants answering the call to prayers, a man alone in the world.
The broodingly charismatic Anas, one of a cast of newcomers playing versions of themselves, gets his moment, though – and his young co-stars do, too, in a validating ending that you know is coming, but still generates an uplifting mic drop moment. You’d travel a long way with Casablanca Beats’s characters – it’s just a shame the film doesn’t quite take us the distance.