Trances (1981, Ahmed El Maanouni)

‘It’s been an obsession of mine since 1981,’ claims Martin Scorsese, speaking of Ahmed El Maanouni’s Trances, which he first saw while editing The King of Comedy one evening. Scorsese speaks enthusiastically of this documentary following Moroccan folk band, Nass El Ghiwane, which Scorsese chose as his World Cinema Project’s inaugural entry.

Your enjoyment of Trances will depend, ultimately, on how much you enjoy the music of Nass El Ghiwane. The foursome use traditional Moroccan instruments and the majority of the film consists of footage of concert performances. The music is high energy and it’s clear from the fevered reaction of the crowds that Nass El Ghiwane were/are a band that touched a patriotic chord for the people of Morocco during a time of political strife.

Trances plays in a scattered, non-linear fashion (much like Nass El Ghiwane’s music) as concerts are interspersed with interviews with the band, some staged scenes, bits of music theory and all of it placed in its sociopolitical context.

A couple of highlights are an impromptu jam with an old man outside their garage and an incredibly rousing musical sequence in which one of Nass El Ghiwane’s songs is played to the image of a woman passionately dancing and gesticulating on her knees; as if the music running through her is the single most important thing in the world at that moment. Everything then slows down as the music fades away, leaving us with the dancing woman moving in slow motion in silence.

While I don’t find it as remarkable as Mr. Scorsese, Trances – as its name aptly suggests – is a hypnotic look into a band, a culture and a nation that for many people in the west (like myself) remain quite unknown. Music buffs should definitely seek it out. (6)

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