On Feb. 27, the French Film Festival wrapped up at Images Cinema with the showing of Qu’Allah Benisse La France! (May Allah Bless France!). The movie focused on the story of an aspiring French rapper, Abd Al Malik, and his journey from poverty to becoming one of the most successful rappers in the country. The film was produced by Malik himself and, similar to Eminem’s 8 Mile, is an autobiographical tale of his struggles. Interestingly, however, Qu’Allah Benisse La France! focuses less on the music and more on the personal aspects of Malik’s journey, a unique formula for the musical biopic genre that at times paid off but also made the film feel slightly incomplete.
Qu’Allah Benisse La France! begins with Malik, who at this time has yet to convert to Islam and goes by his birth name, Regis, and his four friends being arrested by the police for throwing a rock at their car. Instantly, the film makes it clear that the tension and stress caused by poverty and race will be a central part of the film.
There are several times during the film where Malik focuses on the idea that minorities and immigrants in France do not feel like their country belongs to them. Regis and his friends are pick-pockets, refusing to sell drugs for money because they do not want to risk the hefty sentences that come with getting caught. Whenever they can, they work on creating rap music at a local radio store. In addition to rapping, Regis is also a stellar student at his high school and has been offered admission into a university program for students gifted in writing and literature. This choice, between pursuing further education and following his dream of becoming a rapper, is the main dilemma of the first half of the film. Qu’Allah Benisse La France! changes tone significantly, however, when one of Regis’s friends is killed in a drive-by shooting.
After this scene, the film picks up again a year later. Regis has converted to Islam and is now Malik. He and his friends are experiencing quite a bit of onstage success in rap music but can not seem to avoid the pitfalls that come with the dangers of poverty. Some are arrested, and some quit rap to focuses on their spirituality.
In the end, Malik is signed to a record deal and achieves the success he had always dreamed of, but he was the only one of his friends to make it out. Even though he experiences great personal success, the fact that his friends did not continues to haunt him.
For a movie that is about a rapper and his journey to musical fame, the movie features little music. There are two songs featured in the film, but apart from that, there is no actual music to be found. In addition, one of the important storylines for the climax of the film is Malik’s relationship with his girlfriend, Nawell, who does not appear often and is a relatively underdeveloped character in the film.
This was Malik’s directorial debut, and he clearly has a keen eye behind the camera. Perhaps one of the reasons why he does not focus so much on his own music or relationship is because he feels like the story he is telling is bigger than himself.
The most striking shots of the film are focused on showing the realities of life in his poor neighborhood. In one scene, as Malik and his friends walk in the street, the camera suddenly stops and allows the group to walk past, as it instead focuses on a street fight happening in the background.
One striking scene is at the funeral for Malik’s friend who was killed in the drive-by shooting. At the funeral, as all of the young man’s friends stand and pray, many of them dissolve from the screen one by one, with their fate — arrested, died of a drug overdose or murdered — popping up to replace them. The entire film is shot in black and white, which certainly adds to the feeling of bleakness that Malik is trying to convey of his environment.
What Qu’Allah Benisse La France! sacrifices through the unconventional narrative focus it makes up for by being able to so creatively and emotionally capture the struggles of Malik’s new and difficult environment.