Mustapha (Mohamed Bastaoui) is a fortyyear- old barber in Casablanca. His clients are retired high-ranking government officials, former cabinet ministers and power brokers in Morocco. On the side, Mustapha has an underground business “facilitating” paperwork, using his privileged access to these retired bigwigs to grease the wheels of bureaucracy. While his operation thrives, Mustapha keeps a shameful secret: he is illiterate, and has hired Said (Abdessamad Miftahakhair) to assist him with managing appointments and tracking transactions. He does not know that Said is being paid to monitor his underground dealings.
Zakia (Houda Rihana), Mustapha’s next door neighbour, is a thirty-year-old schoolteacher whose fiancé, Driss, has immigrated to Spain. Zakia longs to join Driss, but a visa seems impossible to secure. She learns that strawberry-picking season in Spain is imminent and a company is hiring Moroccan women to do the harvesting, granting them temporary work visas. The women have to be married with children and, most importantly, they must have rough hands. She asks Mustapha to forge her papers and gets her mother to concoct a special cream that will make her hands coarse. The papers are processed, but Zakia’s hands fail the test. She and Driss soon break up, and she has to stay in Casablanca. But another destiny seems written in the stars for Zakia.
Rough Hands, Mohamed Asli’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed debut In Casablanca Angels Don’t Fly, is a bold indictment of the kind of society produced by a corrupt police state, and a sharp study of how abuse can pervade both a system and everyday life. Asli’s protagonists are neither thugs with a heart nor innocent victims; they are at once guilty and compelling, poor folk who bend the system in the pursuit of mundane aspirations, such as the simple need to secure a living. –TIFF