It’s incredibly easy to imagine a Hollywood studio snapping up the remake rights to director Nabil Ayouch’s unobtrusive charmer of a film, transplanting the story to an American city, tweaking certain elements to create a heartwarming, emotionally manipulative effect, and diluting the original beyond recognition. It would be a minor shame if this hypothetical scenario ever came to pass. Despite its occasional narrative aimlessness, Casablanca Beats has a geography-specific vibrancy and credibility that would be difficult to replicate.
Anas (Anas Basbousi) is a rapper whose seemingly brief glory days are behind him. He takes a job teaching hip-hop to teens at an arts centre in Sidi Moumen, on the outskirts of Casablanca. Anas and his young students all share their real first names with their characters, as all are playing fictionalised versions of themselves. This is because the film’s rather imprecise story was inspired by the Positive School of Hip Hop – a real-life arts programme started by the film’s director.
In press interviews after Casablanca Beats debuted in competition at Cannes (back in 2021), details about the film’s construction shed some light on the final result. Reportedly shot over a prolonged period, with key developments and sequences workshopped during production, the story has an improvised feeling to it. If it occasionally seems to lack momentum, it’s probably because the creative team were creating a narrative that (at the time) didn’t have a clear conclusion in mind. A little more definition would have resulted in a sharper (and somewhat more satisfying) story, which sometimes feels like it’s procrastinating before it decides on its next steps.
In one of his first acts as teacher, Anas none-too-subtly deconstructs the lyrics produced by his students, suggesting that in attempting to emulate American rappers, his young charges are opting for affectations, instead of the authenticity, passion and catharsis that comes from personalising their efforts. For those without much knowledge of hip-hop, the students’ efforts at self-expression might be hard to distinguish from their previous attempts. However, it’s not necessary to have any real knowledge or affinity for the genre to connect with Ayouch’s warm and wonderfully unsentimental work.
Casablanca Beats is released in select cinemas on 29th April 2022.
Watch the trailer for Casablanca Beats here: