Benzos And Opulence: At The Marrakech Film Festival

This year’s Marrakech Film Festival has been happening in Morocco all week. During my time there, I saw only one film, but the festival itself was pretty cinematic. Tons of amazingly photogenic people swanning around, lots of gorgeous scenery, mindbending architecture to gawk at, a group of desperate people plotting escape (journalists), the whole deal.

The opening dinner party was an Indian buffet at the new Taj Hotel, which had the stylings of a psychedelic Mughal palace. The food was disappointing, but the party proved great thanks to the cadre of Bollywood stars in attendance. This year’s festival featured a big tribute to Hindi cinema, and a slew of India’s biggest film stars came to town for the event.

This man, Shahrukh Khan, is the Tom Cruise cum Al Pacino of India. Only even more famous than those two combined. Actually, he’s the most famous actor on Earth. Suck it, Hollywood.

Around 1 a.m. at the opening party, I met some of the younger stars on the dance floor. A publicist with the group told me they were the Indian equivalent of the Twilight and Hunger Games kids. (Sorry for the this-is-what-it-would-be-in-America translation but that’s how I kept up.) Compared to young Hollywood, this contingent won on every count. Friendly? Yup. Beautiful? Indeed. Hard partying? Yes. They were pounding shots of Grey Goose at 3:30 a.m. When they handed me one, I puked on myself. They just kept drinking and dancing and laughing. No egos, no attitude. Young Hollywood, step it up.

The next night there was a formal tribute to Bollywood. Here is Amitabh Bachchan, the former “angry young man” of Hindi cinema, standing onstage next to Catherine Deneuve.

Working the red carpet is one of the most fun forms of journalism. You’re quarantined into a huddled pack with all the other journalists, yelled at if you move and harassed by publicists. It’s like war reporting, but with even more angry people. Arguing with publicists and asking famous people you don’t know dumb questions is super fun. Exhibit A: Ms. Monica Bellucci, the big star of the festival. “Monica, is it true about the boat?” I yelled, having heard a rumor about her early days in showbiz.

This netted me a strange look from this publicist, then a “Move on, please,” said in a sexy French accent.

The festival had an official disco called The So Lounge, which was only so-so in atmosphere but made up for it in generous free-booze policies and the deployment of an expat cover band doing Pitbull tunes. Marrakech has some serious discos. One could easily disco through 25 different insane party dens, amongst hookers, Euros and rich Arabs, until dawn in this town. There are casinos, too. And then the city is just amazing. Snails are sold on street corners and there are 26 local lamb varieties, all good. I also came away with distinct impression that you can buy hash from every single Moroccan male you meet. #hashtag #travelfact

It was at the discos that I learned about a rising young professional class called “fashion and style writers.” They’re not quite reporters, nor do they do much actual writing. They’re almost famous, being allowed access and proximity to the stars, making them semi-socialites. They wear colorful clothing including capes and scarves and get invited to things called “dinners,” which are like actual dinner but with less eating. (The dinner that Dior gave here was attended by Christian Louboutin, above, a humble cobbler from Italia.) Occupying the niche of fashionably stylish writer yuppie may represent the last hope for aspiring journalists to make real money. And as a bonus, you don’t even have to do any journalism. From my reporting, the greatest living young “fashion and style writer” is a gentleman named Derek Blasberg. He went to NYU. He’s now so almost famous that he hosts the aforementioned dinners, then writes about them. In effect, his beat is himself. Sweet gig.

The one movie I saw was a French film about a woman who kills a bunch of people with benzodiazepine, a.k.a Valium, the very drug I bought at the pharmacy here and was on the entire trip. And pills are also the subject of the only major Hollywood feature screening at the festival, Silver Linings Playbook, that Oscar-buzzy flick directed by David O. Russell and starring Bradley Cooper as a bipolar wigger. It’ll screen at the festival this evening. Above is Darren Aronofsky.

The anything-goes-ness of the festival felt odd, politically. Morocco is still ruled by a monarchy; and while the Arab Spring hit here and brought change, there remained moments where even a visitor like me would brush up against these invisible threads of control. Like, attempting to click on this video, I’d get the message: “This video not approved by this country.” Funnily, at the airport, I’d picked the only English magazine they had, some nerd rag called Foreign Policy. And! There was an article about Morocco by James Traub, who writes: “Constitutional reform, by itself, will not be enough. Morocco cannot become a democracy as long as it has both a government and a feudal court that claims not to govern and therefore is unaccountable to the public.” In conversations with many young Moroccans, mainly of the Ultra (soccer hooligan) variety, I’d hear this echoed along: the revolution will come if the king doesn’t make more changes soon.

Holding a film festival in an authoritarian country confused me—should I be involved in this? But a publicist at the event told me this: “I’m working with artists, actual artists, to create art and then we get to show the art here. This society needs that more than the West.”


Ray LeMoine was born north of Boston and lives in New York.