The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THE DAMNED DON’T CRY | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - THE DAMNED DON’T CRY

The Damned Don't Cry review
A mother and son hide out with family members following a violent incident.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Fyzal Boulifa

Starring: Aicha Tebbae, Abdellah El Hajjouji, Antoine Reinartz

The Damned Don't Cry poster

Considering it is meant to be the oldest profession in the world, I've not met one single person who wanted to be a sex worker when they were growing up. Not to shame or stigmatise prostitution but I would imagine that most people sort of fall into it in the same way that one may end up being homeless or working in an office (another prevailing occupation which I've yet to hear someone aspire towards, come to think of it), and that for a certain amount of professionals in the sector it's perhaps something they'd rather not be doing. Fyzal Boulifa's strangely enervated The Damned Don't Cry focuses on sex work as a family trade, with established prostitute Fatima-Zahra (Aicha Tebbae) plying her craft across Moroccan cities as she outruns scandal and the law, taking with her Selim (Abdellah El Hajjouji), her late-teenage son who (inevitably, the film suggests) takes up the game, too.

The Damned Don't Cry review

We open with a deliberately disorientating shot of Fatima-Zahra and Selim asleep on a rug, both in their underwear as if they were May to December lovers. It quickly transpires though that they are mother and son, but the provocation of the initial wide shot lingers as Selim showers in front of his mother and she routinely washes his hair. Carefully applying eye liner later, Fatima-Zahra is at pains to look good for what she claims is a job interview: "First impressions count," she tells her son. Meeting on the outskirts of the city for paid sex with a regular chancer who takes her to a secluded spot and proceeds to punch her in the face before stealing her necklace and purse, Fatima-Zahra finds cold comfort from the police when she reports the crime. And so, it's off on the lam again with Selim, mainly to escape paying rent but also just because sometimes flight is its own relief. The two take with them the still unpacked bags which Selim was complaining about a few scenes ago. The loop is inescapable.

The Damned Don't Cry review

Following some unsettling revelations at the family homestead concerning Selim's father, the two duly locate themselves in Tangiers where they hope to find some sort of stability in perhaps the most notoriously illicit city on the planet. Will Fatima-Zahra discover love with the lonely bus-driver who takes them to town? Will Selim's burgeoning relationship with a pretty local girl lead to something lasting and pure? Fat chance. Falling in with a criminal element, Selim is given a job via phone, with the call arriving just as he is about to land an awkward kiss on his female beau. It's what Swedish pop queen Agnes would call a "sliding door moment": perhaps if the call had arrived a few moments later, The Damned Don't Cry's outcomes would be different. But it doesn't and Boulifa reminds us of how stacked fate is as Selim is guided to an apartment, where he is instructed to find money, and then wait for a male client who will have sex with him. The 17-year-old's initial protests are laughed off, as in this world there are sellers and there are the sold. A buyer, Sébastien (Antoine Reinartz), who is a white French man, enters, and, in frustration, Selim violently sodomises him, before dashing out with the cash.

The dynamics are specifically colonial: Sébastien has a holiday home in Tangiers, which he visits for sex in the same way that countless rich white men did before him and which rich white men will continue to do after him (prob best not to Google the words "Tangiers Sexual Exploitation 2022," unless you want to spend the rest of the afternoon extremely fucking angry and despondent). Hustling quickly becomes an unwanted but acceptable form of making money for Selim: turns out the classy Sébastien enjoyed the rough trade, and he sets the pretty teen up in his house. Within the strange and tragic correspondence of abuse, dependency and the false hope of stability grows.

The Damned Don't Cry review

Unlike Boulifa's blistering debut Lynn + Lucy, The Damned Don't Cry is a more meditative proposition composed of  wide-open photography and lingering sequences. We often see Selim or Fatima-Zahra framed on balconies or standing near windows with the looming white city beyond as if to exemplify their trapped status; so close to metropolitan freedoms but ultimately restrained. For all their visual scope scenes within the film are airless and extended, which may well serve to demonstrate the quotidian nature of the characters fate but can also make The Damned Don't Cry a challenging watch at times. In the film's final, unrequited moments, we recall the weird intimacy of the opening, and understand now that taboo sexual energy was never an aspect of the relationship: Fatima-Zahra and Selim's proximity was based on mutual reliance and the kind of desperate innocence that could never really last.

The Damned Don't Cry is in UK/ROI cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from July 7th.

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