Salvation Army  {L’armée du Salut}

( L’armée du Salut )

Adapting his own autobiographical novel, director Abdellah Taïa tells the story of a Moroccan boy’s struggle to find himself within a society that shuns him. Being gay is not the only difficulty confronting young Abdellah (the main character shares the filmmaker’s name)—his father abuses his mother, he feels a forbidden attraction to his big brother Slimane, and older men in the neighborhood prey on him for their frustrated sexual needs. To escape these tensions, the restless teen goes on a road trip to the coast with Slimane. When the two are separated and Abdellah must depend on his own resources, the prospect of a new kind of freedom arises: a journey that could take Abdellah toward the European university education he longs for, far from his native language and culture.

Telling the story through two different time periods and locales, Taïa employs long, expressive takes that are visually stunning, and he’s found two compelling actors to play the younger and older iterations of his protagonist. Salvation Army is not only brave for tackling taboo issues within Moroccan society and finding new ways to represent the queer Arab experience; it’s also a compelling cinematic debut from someone whose prior work has been exclusively in prose. Taïa has turned Abdellah’s story into a moving meditation on the necessity—and the price—of personal freedom.

In French with English subtitles.