Raja is a serioiusly demented love story. The first couple acts of the thing are kind of disgusting as the geezerly middleaged Frenchman Fred (Pascal Greggory) tries to seduce the orphaned teenage moslem girl (Najat Benssallem). Fred comes off as a whiny predator, but Raja has a very harsh history so perhaps she can handle the wealthy foreigner's slavering horny dog pity-me routine.
As the story develops it becomes psychologically so rich, so complex, that the two central performances completely captivate the viewer. Neither speaks the others' language, so no real communication is possible; nor, one has to suppose, no real love is possible, each being to the other only a blank screen onto which to make each their own projections with which to become enamored.
They're both at the mercy of ad hoc translators who either intentionally sabotage any likelihood of communication, or convey the wrong message from Arabic into French or French into Arabic because neither one of these two people are being totally honest to begin with & even a well-intended translator has no clue about the underlying intents.
Raja is at first appalled by the ugly old guy coming on to her, but she's been a street ruffian & prostitute, so on a comparative level of disgust, Fred's upscale, & she knows she might gain from his interest. What she doesn't expect is that she could, & does, get a serious heavy-duty teenager-style heart-bursting crush on the old fart, & could probably have a great affair with him, maybe even marry him & live happily for who knows how long, if only they could communicate.
He's attracted to her wildness & the imperfections of her beauty, but he's also quite rightly insecure about himself as an appalling old perv. When she gets it through to him that she thinks he's old & she loves someone named Yussef, he believes that utterly; but when she manages to convey that she in fact loves him a great deal, he thinks she's only after gifts & money. What he really wants from her -- unconditional love instead of a sex-for-money arrangement -- she is eventually willing to give him, but he never realizes it, first because of the language barrier & second because he can't believe in his own dream.
Eventually Fred sets out almost selflessly to provide for Raja a life with Yussef with whom he continues to believes Raja is in love, never realizing Yussef is barely more than a pimp. The miscalculations, misinterpretations, & misguidedness of everything Fred does could well leave the object of his obsession destroyed.
The film is unsettling at times, amusing at others, but in the main it is a very convincing story of two people with their own emotional states inaccessible to the other, reaching across a void to one another pathetically & ineffectively. Their eventual lovemaking is distressing all round; neither is able to find exactly what they need to fill their emptinesses & repair their individual unhappinesses. The characters may not be ourselves but their ultimate experience of heartbreak is universal. It's an excruciating, very moving film.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl