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Film Movement // Unrated // February 24, 2015
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted March 11, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Malika (Chaimae Ben Acha) is the lead singer of an all-girl punk band called Traitors. Stuck in Tangier, Morocco, with little in the way of prospects outside of working in a call center, Malika vents against the city and the sexist attitudes of the people that live in it. When a producer with a label offers to record Traitors, but leaves it to Malika to find the money for the studio time, Malika turns to Samir (Mourade Zeguendi), who offers her a job after she fixes his car at her father's garage. Samir is a drug dealer, and although Malika doesn't like drugs, she agrees to ferry a shipment of hash from one city to another for $8,000. She is paired up with Amal (Soufia Issami), another young woman who has already been doing the runs for some time now. Malika believes the mental and ethical strain of the job will be worth the reward, but as she gets to know Amal better, she begins to reconsider what's really important.

Traitors is a unique and fascinating film, one which casually drifts around, allowing its story to shift and evolve. For some, this will be a test of their patience as they wait for the story to get its hooks in, but for writer / director Sean Gullette (whom many may know as an actor from Aronofsky's Requiem For a Dream and Pi), this is clearly a method through which he can capture an overall portrait of what it's like in the city, soaking in the details of Malika's situation. I selected the film expecting something of a companion piece to 2013's We Are the Best!, read the synopsis and prepared for more of a thriller, and ended up with a rousing character study, saturated with social awareness. At the same time, the film still incorporates elements of those other movies it could have been, all in one surprisingly cohesive package.

Sexism hangs in the air throughout Traitors. When Malika goes to her father looking for a job in the garage, his primary concerns are the way she looks, as he believes it won't get her a husband, a task he expects will be her main priority. Later, Malika goes to a nightclub and catches the eye of a guy across the bar, who offers her $1,600 to have sex with him. She visits a doctor who is informed she fell, information the doctor discreetly double-checks with her before the check-up. When she meets Amal, she quickly discovers that Amal is at least partially addicted to coke, secretly sniffing it when their violent boss Haj (Driss Roukhe) isn't looking. Some movies would use this as an excuse for Malika to hate Amal, and there are times early on where their interactions are touchy, but Malika is too aware of the reasons why Amal would be stuck running drugs across the country to hold her problems against her. Malika bonds with Amal, almost insistently, because solidarity is the only thing that can protect them from oppression.

Gullette has a real find in the form of Acha, who is able to create a cold and distant character without alienating the audience. Her emotionally reclusive nature is informed by the way people treat her, and when she speaks her mind, her comments always come off as righteous, never rude. As Malika and Amal become closer, Malika's outrage at the situation Amal is in brings Acha to life, providing the character with something to get passionate and purposeful about. Issami is also excellent, giving Amal more of an attitude while couching it within her experiences working for Haj and Samir. It's not that she's a resentful person, just that she's built up an emotional shield, and it takes a bit of maneuvering for Malika to find her way around it.

The film's pacing starts out slow, working its way up to the story over the course of the first 30 to 45 minutes. It's a long wait for a film's central conflict to kick in, but the joy of watching Acha play the character is more than enough to justify the story meandering a little. Surprisingly, we end up learning very little about the rest of Malika's bandmates, who are only briefly seen while Malika attempts to raise the money for their studio session. She is not just the leader of the band, she's a leader, period, taking action when she sees injustice and refusing to settle for less than she feels is justified. Amal confesses to Malika, "My mother always said, if you are a nail, endure the knocking." Malika shoots back, "That's only half of that proverb. The other half says, if you are a hammer, strike." In Acha and Gullette's hands, Malika is a hammer, and it's electrifying to watch her strike.

Film Movement has ditched their familiar branding template that used to take up a huge chunk of the real estate on their DVD covers, and the results are pleasing. Traitors arrives on DVD with a striking image of Malika, wearing a hoodie, walking in front of a background of the city with the title Traitors stamped on it in red. It also highlights the film's rousing tagline. The single-disc release comes in a transparent eco-friendly Amaray case, with notes from Film Movement on selecting the movie and writer / director Sean Gullette on being selected, and there is a booklet advertising Film Movement.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, this is another impressive effort from Film Movement. Aside from a softness in keeping with standard definition, the transfer deftly avoids issues such as banding, blocking, or aliasing. The image appears well-balanced, with deep, saturated colors. Very impressive.

One might expect a film that is supposedly about a band to have more music in it, but there are only a couple of songs, bookending the picture. Instead, it's more of a natural ambience that the 5.1 has to handle, including the muffled echo of a nightclub and a subsequent street chase, crowded streets, and the sound of the beach. The film is a mix of French and English, with English subtitles provided, as well as a 2.0 stereo mix in the original language.

The Extras
The primary extra is Gullette's short film Traitors (32:32), about the band trying to shoot their music video without any permits. It's common these days for short films to be shot with the intention of expanding them into feature-length films, but this is one of the few I've seen where the short film footage was also cut up and recontextualized for parts of the movie -- some of the actors in the short are different than the finished film, and details of the story have been removed or changed. A fascinating counterpart to the full film. The disc also includes a short reel of behind-the-scenes footage (4:10), capturing some fly-on-the-wall moments from the set.

biographies of Gullette and Chaimae Ben Acha are included under the special features menu, as well as a gallery of trailers for other Film Movement releases, including Human Capital, Marie's Story, God's Slave, Before Your Eyes, Amador, and Ben X. An original theatrical trailer for Traitors is also included.

Traitors may lose a few viewers with its unconventional pacing, but the core of the story, about two women discovering what it is to support one another, is rousing, especially with Chaimae Ben Acha as the film's protagonist, Malika. Armed with a strong presentation and a fascinating short film, this DVD is highly recommended.

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