Father, son, and a mythic journey

In order to be truly free, a 17-year-old must set out on his own

BRATTLEBORO — Oh, to be 17-years-old again. To know the world as one knows a black-and-white photograph. To know one's parent and his many flaws. To have a fixed idea of who Dad is and what your story is as a result.

That is the situation Ben (Samuel Schneider), the protagonist of Caroline Link's coming-of-age film Exit Marrakech, finds himself in.

We meet Ben as he takes off for summer vacation from his German prep school for a trip to meet his estranged father in Morocco. Ben is reckless, naive, and doesn't know anywhere near half of what he thinks he knows.

Link, working in the fine European tradition (taking her time and respecting her audience's grasp) reveals a more complex character in Ben's father Heinrich (Ulrich Tukur) than Ben can fit into his own rigid mindset.

It is easy for Ben to give away the trappings of his upper-class skin and reject the values his father stands for while returning to the pool at the Hilton. In order to be truly free, he must set out on his own.

Along the way, there is a hooker who might or might not have a heart of gold, as well as mentors (both false and true) who point Ben in directions he might want to go but might not know how to return from.

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The main obstacle to Ben fully expressing his newfound freedom is a medical condition, which raises the stakes but also hobble him from fully overcoming the obstacles and challenges of negotiating a new world. His fatal flaw in Aristotelean terms is not of his character but his blood.

Link leaves a trail of cleverly designed breadcrumbs for the viewer to follow as Ben's mythic experience unfolds: the new sensations of this exotic world, the shedding of skin, going deeper into the sex cave, turning his back on his father, and being ritually scarred, before settling into a father-son road movie.

At first we see Heinrich as Ben does - detached, narcissistic, and pompous - but through a skillful set of actions and circumstances, he is revealed to be more complex, a flawed but loving father.

A fine music score quickens the pace and some of the location and long shots by the great director of photography (Bella Haben) make this film a travel advertisement for Morocco.

Many of the local actors do authentic work and provide solid atmosphere for the two leading actors - also adept - to explore the edges of their comfort zone before returning to their former lives forever changed.

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