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Young Moroccan writer-director Alaa Eddine Aljem chose to tackle a sensitive subject in his first feature, absurdist comedy “The Unknown Saint,” which is basically about “the relationship between faith and money,” he says. He spoke to Variety about using sophisticated humor to push boundaries in the Arab world and reflected on the journey of his debut, which after launching from the Cannes Critics’ Week is now premiering for his home crowd at the Marrekech Film Festival. Excerpts.
What drew you to making a movie about a robber who buries his loot in a spot that becomes a holy shrine while he is in jail?
Country - Scouting - Mausoleum - Grave - Saint
I was traveling around the country doing some scouting, and I saw this small mausoleum with “Unknown” written on it. When I asked, I was told it was the grave of an unknown saint. He was this legendary figure and a whole village was built around it and everyone there lived off it. I found this a bit absurd, but I also thought it said something quite deep about the need to believe in something; to have a collective faith. This is key to understanding what brings us all together, especially in Moroccan society.
And that is what makes the subject taboo right?
Morocco - Relationship - Faith - Money - Shrines
Yes. In Morocco you cannot talk about the relationship between faith and money. You cannot talk about the shrines. We have a lot of shrines, but officially the country doesn’t have any. Though everybody knows that there is a huge business built around all the shrines and mausoleums and saints we have. So I had two choices. The first was to make a movie that was quite straightforward and would tackle this topic full on. That would have meant people would not be talking about...
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