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The Damned Don’t Cry

  • Film
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
The Damned Don't Cry
Photograph: Curzon

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

This compassionate Moroccan mum-and-son drama reverberates with angst and repressed guilt

A queer British-Moroccan filmmaker with a unique perspective and talent to burn, Leicester-born Fyzal Boulifa is already attracting unenviable Ken Loach comparisons. Like the veteran social realist, he’s fond of drawing naturalistic performances from first-time actors and exploring what happens at society’s fringes when opportunities – and luck – dry up.

The Damned Don’t Cry, his follow-up to 2019’s Essex-set drama Lynn + Lucy, shows that he deserves to be taken on his own merits. It follows a mother and son, middle-aged Fatima-Zahra (Aicha Tebbae) and gruff teenager Selim (Abdellah El Hajjouji), as they drift from one Moroccan town to another, denied a stable footing and forever on the verge of destitution. But Boulifa adds unusual textures – strings that sound like they’ve ripped from a melodrama and the faint influence of North African soap operas – to give it an effective off-kilter edge. 

Hitched together by a lack of opportunity, Fatima-Zahra and Selim’s relationship has long since curdled into codependency. They’re forever sabotaging each other, often unwittingly, when both face the same challenges. The initially unexplained lack of a father (for him) and husband (for her) is a black mark that can’t be erased, restricting their choices to exploitative, transactional relationships. She undertakes sex work and he gets pimped out to an older French ex-pat (120 BPM’s Antoine Reinartz Sébastien), who is oblivious to the colonial power dynamics playing out in the name of his libido. 

Thanks to the compassionate filmmaker and his impressive leads, it’s a compelling watch

The film’s title is borrowed from a 1950 noir in which Joan Crawford’s hard-scrabble striver reinvents her way to a more prosperous existence. Reinvention is a theme here too – although it’s more about how Morocco’s judgy, unspoken moral code makes it an impossible dream. Life in The Damned Don’t Cry is brutally unfair, and Boulifa offers no easy answers. But thanks to the compassionate filmmaker and his two impressive leads, it’s a compelling watch. 

In UK cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema Jul 7. 

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Fyzal Boulifa
  • Screenwriter:Fyzal Boulifa
  • Cast:
    • Aicha Tebbae
    • Abdellah El Hajjouji
    • Antoine Reinartz
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