Two matched scenes set 10 years apart depicting soccer games among Moroccan slum kids, both climaxing in violence, illustrate the unchanging hopelessness of crushing poverty in the Sidi Moumen shantytown.
Yachine (Abdelhakim Rachi), depressed and introverted, lives in the shadow of his older brother Hamid (Abdelilah Rachid), the pair spending their days scrounging for money, starting fights, and roughhousing with their bros.
Their mother, with three sons, has only enough love for one, and she showers Hamid with praise and affection until the day he’s hauled away for smashing the car window of a corrupt cop. When Hamid returns to the slums two years later, he’s found religion and brotherhood with the most extreme of conservative Muslims. They offer Yachine friendship, assistance, and, for the first time in his entire life, a sense of belonging.
Once drawn into their orbit, his path leads inescapably through training and radicalization and toward martyrdom. Director Nabil Ayouch depicts the sprawling, ramshackle Sidi Moumen slums with fluid camera movements, some of which ascend unexpectedly from street level to the rooftops, the apparent result of cameras on remote-controlled aircraft.
He finds the humanity and the hopelessness in its narrow streets, its fields of rubble, monstrous trash dumps, and grim marketplaces. Empathizing with kids raised in this environment is easy, and though the audience may part ways with Yachine long before the heart-pounding climax, a real-life 2003 attack in which five suicide bombs exploded in Casablanca, they’ll see exactly how he reached his destination.