John Slattery’s “Casablanca Mon Amour” offers a thought-provoking mash-up of Hollywood melodrama, French New Wave cinema, and Moroccan cultural immersion. Screening as part of the fourth edition of the S.F. Film Society’s Cinema by the Bay Film Festival, this documentary/fiction/film critique hybrid examines Hollywood’s thorny exploitation of Morocco.

The narrative portion of “Casablanca Mon Amour” concerns a road trip taken by slacker friends Abdel (Abdel il Adrissi) and Hassan (Hassan Ouazzani). Abdel’s traveling from Casablanca across Morocco to visit the dying uncle he was named after before it’s too late. Hassan reluctantly accompanies Abdel because he hopes to use the trip to complete his class project, a look at Hollywood’s influence on Morocco. The duo’s frequent detours and delays makes one wonder whether both men succeed in their aims or whether Hassan will finally lose control and painfully murder Abdel.

“Casablanca Mon Amour” is structured as three films in one. There’s the above-mentioned narrative, which is rendered in color. The black and white sequences present behind the scenes moments in the creation of the Hassan and Abdel narrative. But they also serve as a reminder of the deliberate artificiality of the narrative’s set-up. Finally, there are the color video excerpts from Hassan’s class project. In a way, these sequences capture the uncomfortable impact of Hollywood films on the Moroccan imagination without descending into polemical indignation.

In a telling moment in the film, a film festival representative notes “A country without its own art will never have a history.” One of the more disturbing realizations is that Moroccan land has been used by Hollywood productions as substitutes for Tibet and the desert planet Arrakis. While the jobs funded by Hollywood money are welcome in high unemployment areas, one wonders if the price of lacking a native Moroccan film industry is worth such an economic deal.

Cinephiles will correctly recognize the title of Slattery’s film comes from a mashup of both “Casablanca” and “Hiroshima Mon Amour.” There’s a blend of love and antagonism that runs through the film’s trips to Meknes or the Sahara Desert location for “Ishtar.”

Déjà vu is sparked by film clips highlighting such familiar anti-Arab slurs as “they all look alike,” “you can’t trust them,” and “towelheads.” With only a little alteration, these slurs could also be applied against blacks or Asians. It’s somewhat insulting that bigots lack the creativity to do more than constantly recycle their prejudices as one size fits all insults.

For all the nice structural trickery used in Slattery’s film, “Casablanca Mon Amour”’s most affecting moments comes when it just shows without comment images from daily life in Morocco, such as early morning workers and a performance by Malhun de Meknes.

“Casablanca Mon Amour” balances its portrait of the footprint of Western filmmaking on Morocco with historical anecdotes about the country. This film is worth a look.

***


Jason Wolos’ S.F. restaurant scene drama “Trattoria” leaves viewers with the experience of an unsatisfying aperativo instead of a rich portata principale. The film fails to uniquely flavor the familiar story of the tense relationship between ambitious restauranteur Sal Sartini and his estranged son Vince. Its images of Italian dishes resemble food tease rather than food porn. Comments from real-life chefs feel like attempts at concealing Sal’s weakly written character. Only shots of actress Lisa Rotondi’s cleavage provide some excitement.

***


Jesse Vile’s Cinequest award-winning documentary “Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet” offers more than a macabre title. It’s a testament to an incredibly talented guitar prodigy who finds a way to harness his musical talent despite having his rock-and-roll career curtailed by the onset of ALS. When one is not weeping at the blow to young Becker’s dreams, one marvels at the love and support of family and fans as well as the technological ingenuity that helps give Becker new hope.

***


The “magical pixie girl who changes a man’s dull life for the better” has turned into one of the newest cinematic plot clichés. Sean Gillane’s feature film “CXL” may start in this vein, but it soon runs off its established rails in an unexpected direction.

Aspiring writer Nolan lives an utterly sucky life. His novel Dehydrated Tears generally sits unbought on a bookstore shelf. A street donations day job only generates frustration from passersby continually ignoring him. He constantly fantasizes about ex-girlfriend Jeanie. His closest version of fun is providing moral support to a roommate publicly reading a 95-point plan for saving Earth from a solar disaster occurring several hundred years from now. One day, the unpredictable and irrepressible Cassie enters Nolan’s life and tries to get him to emerge from his root cellar of angst and live for the whims of the moment. But when Nolan’s relationship with Cassie reaches an unexpectedly abrupt turn, just how many of his daily frustrations actually result from his own buried anxieties?

The character of Nolan displays an attitude suggestive of a 20-ish version of Harvey Pekar, the late misanthropic creator of “American Splendor.” The only difference is that unlike Pekar, Nolan can only vegetate through his unsatisfying life.

Cassie’s impulsive unpredictability so dominates the screen that viewers may mistakenly believe that the film’s story is her helping Nolan learn how to live. But the terrible curveball thrown by the plot turns the first act’s quirky romantic comedy into unexpected unreliable narrator territory. That development makes the viewer question everything that the viewer knows about Nolan’s situation.

Gillane’s “CXL” will entertain viewers as they try to unravel the truth about Nolan’s motivations and life.
(“Casablanca Mon Amour” screens at 2:30 PM on November 10, 2012. “Trattoria” screens at 7:00 PM and 9:30 PM on November 9, 2012. “Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet” screens at 7:00 PM on November 10, 2012. “CXL” screens at 8:30 PM on November 11, 2012. All films screen at the New People Cinema (1746 Post, SF). For further information and advance tickets, go to www.sffs.org .)