Commentary on Allaoui’s IZORANE

Bibi Gaston
author and landscape architect

  I would first like to congratulate you on the new International Cinematic Magazine, conceived and designed by students! I would also like to thank you for inviting me to contribute my thoughts on your First Edition, dedicated to the film of Africa, the Maghreb and Morocco.

    While this is not the first Moroccan or Maghrebi movie I have seen, I am not an expert on film, Moroccan film, Moroccan history, nor the symbols used by Morocco’s many talented filmmakers. I keep quiet and smile when I don’t know what I am talking about. Please accept my apologies in advance if my comments do not correctly interpret what the filmmaker intended.

    The film you have asked me to discuss, “Izorane,” a silent film set in the mountains of rural Morocco, is filled with bucolic scenes from a world that is quickly vanishing and that we are fortunate to have a glimpse of before it is gone. As a landscape architect and an author, I can say with authority that Izorane speaks to the loss of indigenous populations all over the world, from Nepal to Morocco to Brazil to the American West.

     Nature reigns supreme in Izorane, and water in all its forms except ice, is merciful. The scenes: A slippery mountain road where a sports utility vehicle spins out of control; a father lies dead in the snow having taken his hands off the wheel during an angry cell phone call with his wife; a rustic mountain hut where the man’s unconscious daughter is taken in to be cared for by a tribe of traditional women who bathe her in sacred waters and apply a homeopathic cure; a winter forest where the injured girl dreams of being visited at first by sheep, symbols of sacrifice, and then by the hooded horseman of death.

    Izorane, one might say, is a silent prayer, an ode to the ancient world, and to nature. Because it is wordless, we are reliant on a world of symbol. If we zoom back, however, with a wider lens, perhaps it is a beautiful metaphor for a female’s passage from girlhood into womanhood, or the world’s passage into an age of “knowing.” Whatever the metaphor, Izorane bares witness to the inevitability of change and passage: from ancient to modern and from life into death.

    Director Alaoui Lamharzi’s opening scene delivers us to a mountain lake bathed in high-altitude light. We could be anywhere: in Sagarmatha National Park in Nepal or with the the Sheepeater Indians, a band of the Shoshone, also known as the Snake Indians who lived in the area of what is now Yellowstone Park. In fact, we are in the mountains of Morocco inhabited by indigenous mountain tribes that span the length of North Africa and are thousands of years old, the Berbers. While there are three human characters in Izorane, one who is dead, one who is on the edge of death, and the other who heals the dead back to life, we are reminded in the opening minutes of a fourth “character” that determines the quality and course of our lives: nature.  “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,” writes Shakespeare. From the opening scene, we know that Izorane will explore the gentle rain from heaven.

    We quickly learn that an elderly, traditionally-dressed mountain woman has somehow taken charge of an injured young woman from the city after a car accident in which her father is killed. The mountain woman goes out to retrieve sticks for the fire and discovers a strange ragged doll in the snow. Carrying the sticks on her back and the doll in her hand, she returns to the hut and places the doll so that it stands guard over her injured guest. A note arrives, delivered by a postman on horseback, but the mountain woman is illiterate and so the postman reads her the letter. We do not know what is in the letter, but we do know that the letter contains a dark stain in the form of a circle formed by the bottom of a glass. Homeopathy being the oldest form of medicine, the mountain woman sees the sign of the circle in the letter and embarks on an ancient candle-lit ceremony of cups to heal her injured guest. We assume that she aims to heal the young woman of her injuries and to extract the spirits that beset the modern world.

   Carl Jung’s early twentieth century exploration of archetypes, dreams, signs, and symbols lead us to a deeper understanding of the human journey in the natural world. If the circle is a symbol of healing the ‘self’ in Izorane, it also points to the ancient world as the source of wholeness to which we might return for knowledge. However, Jung’s work was not a retroactive roadmap to a simpler, more glorious past. Jung’s symbols are a means by which we might heal the divided self.

   Set in a rural village, Izorane invites us into a conversation on modernity and healing. We may be able to sustain rural indigenous cultures and populations, but we can not re-populate rural villages nor would we want to; once they are gone, they are gone. Instead, the circle suggests we respect indigenous knowledge while attending to the restoration and healing of the split between man and nature, rural and urban. The arc of history is long, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, but it bends towards justice, and we should hope, spiritual and human progress.

    If the symbol of the circle in Izorane is to be interpreted generously, it suggests inclusion, and the middle path. It is the circle that symbolically connects humanity and nature, heaven and earth, ying and yang, man and woman, east and west. The circle connects the points of the star that form when we draw two triangles atop one another; the circle overlies the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and the domes of Michelangelo; the circle encompasses the face of the sunflower while the sunflower itself mimics the daily journey of the sun as it crosses the arc of the sky. In ‘Symbolism in the Visual Arts’ Man and His Symbols (Carl Jung), Aniela Jaffe, writes that the circle  “expresses the totality of the psyche in all its aspects, including the relationship between man and the whole of nature. Whether the symbol of the circle appears in primitive sun worship or modern religion, in myths or dreams, in the mandalas drawn by Tibetan monks, in the ground plans of cities, or in the spherical concepts of early astronomers, it always points to the single most vital aspect of life – its ultimate wholeness.”ie: from ancient to modern and from life into death.

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