Movie Review - Horses of God (Les Chevaux de Dieu)

Hamza Souidek (left) and Abdelhakim Rachi
in a scene from "Horses of God (Les Chevaux de Dieu)"
On May 16, 2003, a group of suicide bombers killed themselves and dozens and dozens of people in Casablanca, Morocco. Based on the novel by Mahi Binebine, this film provides a fictional account of the lives of the suicide bombers, showing how and possibly what led to them committing this horror. The focus is on four of them living in the shantytown of Sidi Moumen.

The screenplay by Jamal Belmahi covers ten years of the boys' time. It pivots around four key dates in that decade. July 1994 was the time of the World Cup. July 1999 was the death of the King of Morocco. September 2001 was the Al Qaeda attack in the United States, and November 2002 was when the boys began their descent toward martyrdom.

Abdelhakim Rachi plays the older version of Yachine, the protagonist here, the one boy of the four who this story centers. The first time we see him is playing soccer on a dirt field near Sidi Moumen. In his pocket is a picture of a Russian goalie whom he idolizes.

When he gets into trouble on the field, his older brother Hamid, played by Abdelilah Rachid, comes to his defense. Hamid's weapon of choice is a chain that he wraps around his arm. Hamid is tough. He struts around like a little gangster. He's arrested in 1999 where he's converted to Islam, much like Malcolm X.

Hamza Souidek plays Nabil, the best friend of Yachine. He works in a tiny garage for a mechanic. He too likes soccer. Ahmed El Idrissi Amrani plays Fouad, the brother of the girl with whom Yachine is in love.

When it comes to how Yachine, Hamid, Nabil and Fouad could become suicide bombers, a lot of it starts with the economy. An early scene sees the boys sitting around talking about the difficulty of finding a job. Throughout the film, we never see these boys going to school. It's doubtful that any of these boys are literate.

No education and no employment make the boys ripe for manipulation and indoctrination. Basically, it makes them easy recruits. It's not until after 2001 that Muslim fundamentalists and possible agents of Al Qaeda start to convert young men there. A lot of the rhetoric involves using the poverty of the boys and pitting them against the wealthy, stoking a class war as much as a religious one.

There's also a bubbling sexual frustration between the boys that help to stoke things as well. Aside from Yachine's fascination with Fouad's sister, there isn't much attempt at heterosexuality. Yet, there is constant threats and partial expressions of homosexuality. It seems like a prison situation where they're trapped in this shantytown, practically cut off from women.

Yachine's attempt to be with Fouad's sister is always blocked in some way. This doesn't sway Yachine from wanting to be with women, but we do see boys who are swayed. Nabil, for example, gets raped by another boy when he was younger, while others watch. His mechanic boss even kisses him and attempts rape too. This perhaps affects Nabil's sexuality, causing some confusion, but Belmahi's script doesn't deeply explore that.

What's more troubling is that the central conflict comes down between Yachine and his brother Hamid. Through a misfortune of events, Hamid is able to bring Yachine into the Mosque and lead him into the hands of terrorists. By the end, it's Hamid who is then trying to talk Yachine out of the terrorists' hands, and there's no dramatic explanation as to why. I don't think it's as if Hamid didn't know into what he was walking himself and his brother.

For Hamid, it's logical and rational for him not to want to commit a suicide bombing, but he seems totally indoctrinated. Why he suddenly snaps out of what is clearly brainwashing is never established. He just turns. It makes the final conflict a little hollow, if totally warranted.

Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 57 mins.


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