May 4, 2006
A frequently recurring theme in the NYAFF Shorts Program, Emerging Voices from the Maghreb - and perhaps, in the entire festival - is the history of culturally enabled marginalization of women in contemporary society, and this theme clearly resonates in Ali Benkirane's Amal, an understated portrait of a cheerful and precocious girl living in a farming village in the Moroccan countryside who, each morning, prods her drowsy, unmotivated brother out of bed so that they can walk to school together. A bright and conscientious student, she has already surpassed her parents' expectations by completing her intermediate school education and now dreams of becoming a doctor - a dream that her teacher nurtures by rewarding her with scientific books to study during summer vacation, with a promise that she return the favor by paying a surprise visit to his classroom after she has earned her diploma. However, when her parents decide that she is needed at home to help her mother manage the house and will no longer be returning to school, Amal finds a way to keep her dreams alive. Juxtaposing the idyllic pastoral images of rural Morocco with the crushing evaporation of Amal's childhood dreams, Benkirane creates a thoughtful exposition on social inequity and culturally fostered gender bias.