Ismael El Iraki is a Moroccan filmmaker who has been living in France for more than two decades, and the first feature film he shot was washed away by a tragic event that he survived by sheer luck. El Iraki was one of the audience at the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan in Paris when Islamist terrorists burst in and started shooting at random, killing 90 people there. Admittedly, “Zanka Contact” has nothing to do with that terrible event and the film premiered in the Horizons section of the Venice festival could almost be described as a modern urban rock western, a modernist carousel set in Casablanca, the Moroccan city most famous for the film.
I had the impression that this somewhat cartoonish crime comedy was made under the influence of Quentin Tarantino or even more so Robert Rodriguez and “Zanka Contact” was a completely atypical Arab film. The very term zanka contact could be translated as a street fight, and by sheer chance in Casablanca, the paths of the failed Moroccan rock star Larsen Snake and the angelic-voiced prostitute Raja will meet. In the opening scenes, we see that Larsen’s hard rock band Snakepit was once extremely popular, but in the meantime he has completely destroyed himself with drugs. The return from London to Casablanca won’t exactly go well, but then a wild romance will flare up, a bit like Lynch’s (and he is an obvious influence on El Iraki) “Wild at Heart”.
Of course, it won’t be that easy because both Larsen and Raja have personal demons and are haunted by the past, and while in the vast majority of Arab films the musical selection is some of their howling jingles, here everything blares with angry rock’n’roll. Larsen is inseparable from his guitar (unless they steal it) and snakeskin boots (which he will also steal), and when he realizes that Raja has a voice like Paula Abdul, he will not only fall more in love, but realize that with her he could revive his failing career. We also have an actual performance by the German heavy rock band Kadavar (the beards are dusting well!), and it is an extremely fast-paced, rather frivolous and playful film.