Film Review: TRAITORS (directed by Sean Gullette / North American premiere at Tribeca Film Festival)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on April 22, 2014

in Film


Set in Tangier, writer/director Sean Gullette’s admirable debut feature Traitors follows Malika (Chaimae Ben Acha), a rebellious young woman from a struggling, working-class family, who is trying to get her all-female punk band off the ground. When a producer offers her a chance to cut a demo, provided she can pay for studio time, Malika must find some way to get the money, and ends up agreeing to transport hashish for Samir (Mourade Zeguendi), a local drug dealer.

Scene from the film TRAITORS by Sean Gullette, starring Chaimae Ben Acha as Malika. Photo credit - Benoit Peverelli and Niko Tavernise.

A solid film boasting unassailable performances from the all-around excellent cast, Traitors uses the poor-girl-needs-to-make-a-drug-run scenario familiar to enthusiasts of Third-World cinema to shed some light on Morocco’s socio-economic problems, especially as they pertain to women, for whom the only options seem to be marriage, prostitution, or menial labor, or, in Malika’s case, being a punk rocker. She has a charm at once prickly and delicate, and the dark charisma of the desperate, brave and resourceful underdog. Ms. Acha carries the movie well, and Mr. Gullette’s even and thoughtful direction keeps the pace lively.

Chaimae Ben Acha as Malika in TRAITORS by Sean Gullette. Photo credit: Benoit Peverelli and Niko Tavernise

Although concerned with social issues and made in a “realistic” style, about halfway in the scales of Traitors start tipping towards the capable-protagonist thriller. And it’s here that the film could use some work. One key story point and several secondary ones are not set up appropriately to be completely believable in Mr. Gullette’s realistic world. Also, tension slacks during some crucial scenes; when I should have been on the edge of my seat worried about Malika, I wasn’t. The sense I get is that Mr. Gullette is more interested in the social critique aspect of his film than the suspense. Whatever the case, he seems to be trying to expedite the second half. A bit more investment in it might have served his film better.

Still from "Traitors." Director: Sean Gullette. Photo: Benoit Peverelli

photos Benoit Peverelli and Niko Tavernise
© Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

Sharjah Art Foundation presents a Kasbah Films /
White Light White Heat Production
Morocco – 2013 – Color – 84 min.
Arabic / English / French with English subtitles
North American premiere
for screening times, visit Tribeca Film Festival

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