The Damned Don't Cry (2023)

The Damned Don't Cry (2023)

A well-acted and urgent drama done in an unfortunately flat and demanding style



Belgium, France
Arabic, French
Abdellah El Hajjouji, Aïcha Tebbae, Antoine Reinartz
110 min


Doesn't feel right to make a joke about this one, but I also wish more stuff even happened in this to try to joke about in the first place.

What it's about

A mother and her son who are trying to survive poverty in conservative Morocco become involved in sex work.

The take

There's a way to get tragedy right, in a way that keeps the drama engaging even as bad things continue to happen. The Damned Don't Cry gets its approach half-right, with the lead performances by Aïcha Tebbae and Abdellah El Hajjouji remaining sturdy all throughout, and never slipping into easy histrionics. But as the cycle of misfortune continues plaguing their characters, the filmmaking itself doesn't give us anything more to latch onto, with little progression in their arcs and a frustrating lack of insight into the very promising central relationship. There's no mistaking the film's good intentions, but the message arrives in an unfortunately clunky manner.

What stands out

Aïcha Tebbae and Abdellah El Hajjouji anchor this film's emotional core, even when the rest of the story threatens to dull it through its slow pace and its repetition of scenes. It's almost as if, to remind yourself of the film's potential, you only need to look at these actors to see how much character the people they're playing really have. Both Fatima-Zahra (Tebbae) and Selim (El Hajjouji) are attempting to conceal a level of shame from each other, out of compliance to the conservative society in which they live—even if accepting each other's sins is what should really be bringing them closer together.


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