Published Sep 08, 2013Ben (Samuel Schneider), an affluent German teenager with a less than stellar report card, is, as intended, a bit of a blank canvas during the opening sequences of Caroline Link's Exit Marrakech. He jokes with his classmates and responds sarcastically to authority figures that suggest, with good intentions, he should take the opportunities life has handed him more seriously.
Being 16 and unfamiliar with the world outside of middle-class Germany, he's flippant and dismissive, albeit not aggressively so — he's average, not an anarchist — mocking the suggestion that he try to learn something from his summer trip to Morocco to visit his theatre director father (Ulrich Tukur).
Knowing the political and economic climate of Morocco, in relation to Germany's high standard of living, this setup, one where the lesson of perspective is preached, has an implicit formula attached. Ben, being a malleable cipher for social didactics, will eventually learn something from his trip, having experiences first-hand that will give him some appreciation for the lifestyle he's been afforded.
Link (whose films have tended towards exploratory parables of inner-discovery) does her best to avoid clichés, despite constructing a narrative inherently mired in them. When Ben arrives in Morocco, he's quite open to the locals and is curious about their cultural dynamic. Rather than judging or interacting with outright ignorance, he attempts to engage those he encounters, demonstrating shortsightedness only in his tendency to give people handouts.
It's here that Link creates her narrative trajectory and comments upon global politics, taking Ben's initially polite, albeit patronizing, desire to help those less fortunate and turning it upon itself, noting that attempts to improve others are often an avoidance of one's baggage.
When not arguing or responding passive-aggressively to his absent, oft-irresponsible father, Ben tours the city with a homosexual couple he's befriended, wanting to know what there is to do, aside from lounging by a pool with other rich Europeans. It's during these outings that he meets Karima (Hafsia Herzi), a slightly older prostitute he pays to sleep beside, rather than have sex. Again, Ben, being naive and assuming everyone else needs fixing, tries to save this girl according to his moral lexicon, traveling beyond the safety of his upscale resort to her village, where his presence causes controversy amongst the traditionalist thinkers.
The regressive patriarchy of Morocco is something that Link avoids criticizing or even commenting on. While the hypocrisy of Karima's disposition is present — everyone turns a blind eye to her mode of generating income, but accuses her of bringing shame upon their village when she brings a German home — there isn't specific vilification. Ben suggests that Karima should marry him and move back to Germany, which, while sweet, is indicative of the type of mindset that the latter half of the film eventually questions and challenges.
Though some biting commentary comes into play — an interviewer asks Ben's father how he feels about directing an expensive stage production in such a poor country — everything boils down to the relationship between father and son. That a man more interested in his needs essentially abandoned Ben is, in a way, the reason for his casual indifference towards his future. Once the fists come out and Ben begins to realize that the world is as it is, regardless of his attempts to ameliorate it, he's able to confront the inner-conflict that keeps him from feeling whole.
None of this comes as a surprise, stemming from a story that's essentially redundant. Even though Link handles the material with maturity and thoughtfulness, relating upper-class malaise to the poverty sitting just outside of the resorts the rich attend to "escape," there's a basic blandness and reiterative quality that make Ben's realizations less profound and interesting than intended.
Essentially, Exit Marrakech is a shining example of how professional formula filmmaking, when made with a politically conscious mind, has little effect if it takes no risks by merely parroting a well-intentioned, liberal status quo. (Desert Flower)