Seven-year-old Mehdi (Fouad Labied) lives with his mother, Amina (Nezha Rahil), and his grandfather, Ahmed (Mohammad Majd), in a dingy apartment in a small village in Morocco's Atlas Mountains. The time is 1981 during the month of Ramadan. The area has been hit hard by a drought, and these poor people are scrambling just to make ends meet. Ahmed works as a day laborer and has been forced to sell his furniture just to afford the basic necessities. Amina has told her son that his father is away in France when he is actually serving a prison term for inciting a strike. Mehdi misses him and when given a candy wrapper that is said to be from France, he uses it as a talisman for seeing magical things when held up to the sun.

The boy is a loner given the special task he's been given by the teacher at school. He looks after his chair at night and makes sure that it is not stolen. What does that entail? Mehdi carries it on his shoulders and uses it for meditative moments of gazing off into the desolate countryside. He loves watching the lights of the city go on and off far in the distance. One of his few friends is Malika (Meryem Massaja), the mayor's Westernized daughter who listens to popular music, smokes in secret, and attends demonstrations in the city. When she dies in a taxi cab accident, the devout Muslims in the village say God punished her for not fasting and for wearing makeup. This brings fear into the heart of Mehdi who tries his first fast but absent-mindedly bites into an apple. He is convinced that God will strike him dead for this mistake. But his grandfather assures him that nothing will happen to him for forgetting to keep the fast.

This enchanting Moroccan film written and directed by Faouzi Bensaidi slowly and lovingly shows Mehti's coming-of-age in the small village where he is exposed to the gossip, scandal, lying, competition, and kind-heartedness of people. Among the others whose lives touch his family in one way or another are a local beauty who is courted by the school teacher; the new mayor who arrives in a convertible and decides to marry the prettiest young woman in the village; and a crazy farmer who believes that God is against him no matter what he does. On the last evening of Ramadan, Ahmed declares that "the Holy Night is worth one thousand months" of fasting. Mehti's eyes are opened to many new truths and wonders during the month, and they bloom inside him as his family moves on to a new adventure together.

Where and When?

Screened at the 41st New York Film Festival, October 2003.