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The Damned Don’t Cry ★★★



Director: Fyzal Boulifa

Cast: Abdellah El Hajjouji, Aicha Tebbae, Antoine Reinartz

Released: 7th July 2023

Film debuts are never easy to judge, but when you witness an astounding debut, it sticks with you. Fyzal Boulifa’s Lynn + Lucy is one of the finest directorial debuts in recent years. Its exploration of working-class Britain goes beyond and excels, but what happens when you make your sophomore film? Boulifa, of British-Moroccan descent, decided to focus his latest film in Tangier, Morocco, called The Damned Don’t Cry.

The film follows Selim and his mother Fatima-Zahra, who live in close quarters with so little money that a single moment of bad fortune is a survival crisis. Man-child Selim has grown up without a father, leaving him and his mother socially marginalised; he’s bound to his mother but also resents her and offers his love with a dose of petulance. In a starkly patriarchal society, Fatima-Zahra needs Selim just as much as he leans on her. When a trip to her family village reveals some troubling secrets, a rift opens that will see them try to establish their independence from each other but tests their fragile love.

The Damned Don’t Cry is a fascinating sophomore film from Fyzal Boulifa. It is a beautifully tragic exploration of the mother/son dynamic as Boulifa sinks his teeth into the complexities of familial bonds. Cinematographer Caroline Champetier further enhances the ambience of it all; the utilisation of the colours of Tangier allows the city to become its own character. The colourisation and intimate framing evoke that tensely thrilling aura of what Boulifa and Champetier attempt to canvas.

While it’s a gripping tale, it lacks cohesion and that drive that made his debut memorable. Some moments pull you out of the moment, and it takes a while to return to this world. Allowing moments to breathe is essential, but some scenes are too elongated for their own good. The deep roots of The Damned Don’t Cry make it a success, and this irregular tempo hinders the film from going to the next level. What can’t be underestimated is that unnerving feeling of tempered relationships between a mother and a son. Boulifa conjures a believable and raw experience that’s pulsatingly original. This is what makes Fyzal Boulifa one of the most exciting up-and-coming filmmakers in the world right now.

What becomes the coup de grâce of it all is the central performances from Abdellah El Hajjouji and Aicha Tebbae. Living on the fringes of society, they have each other, but this ultimately is a curse upon them too. They both have secrets and issues, and Boulifa found two diamonds in the rough for The Damned Don’t Cry. Aicha Tebbae shines as the mother and is one of the most memorable performances in recent years. Her line delivery has a natural essence, and her presence on screen is larger than life. You can feel every beat of her oeuvre to Tebbae’s advantage. As the film ends, this dynamic will be engrained with you for a while. Fyzal Boulifa continues to shine in the cinematic world, and let’s hope his next project shines even more.

Lover of all things indie and foreign language. Can be found rambling on YouTube at times!

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