Trances (as part of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”) – The Criterion Collection #689 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 10, 2013 by  


Ahmed El Maanouni’s musical documentary showcasing Moroccan band Nass-El Ghiwane, is a wonderful inclusion for Criterion Collection’s “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”! 

Image courtesy of © 2013 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Trances (as part of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”) – The Criterion Collection #689


DURATION: 88 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:60:1 aspect ratio, color, Monaural, in Arabic with English subtitles

COMPANY: Janus Films/The Film Foundation/World Cinema Project/The Criterion Collection

RELEASED: December 10, 2013

Directed by Ahmed El Maanouni

Screenplay by Ahmed El maanouni

Produced by Izza Gennini

Co-Producer: Souheil Ben-Barka

Music by Nass-El Ghiwane

Cinematography by Ahmed El Maanouni

Edited by Jean-Claude Bonfanti, Atika Tahiri


Nass-El Ghiwane (The Band)

Karbi Batma (Percussion)

Abderrahman Paco (Bass)

Omar Sayed (Percussion)

Allai Yaala (Bonjo)

TRANCES The beloved Moroccan band Nass El Ghiwane is the dynamic subject of this captivating musical documentary. Storytellers through song, some with a background in political theater, the band’s members became an international sensation (Western rock critics have often referred to them as “the Rolling Stones of North Africa”), thanks to their political lyrics and sublime, fully acoustic sound, which draws on the Moroccan trance music tradition. Both a concert movie and a free-form audiovisual experiment, Ahmed El Maânouni’s Trances is cinematic poetry.

In Morocco, the music group Nass El Ghiwane has been an inspiration to a lot of fans.

A band which originated in the avant-garde political theater, members Larbi Batma (percussion), Abderrahman Paco (bass), Omar Sayed (percussion) and Allal Yaala (bonjo), their music was best known for incorporating trance and incorporating local Gnawa music.

Known for creating a new social movement in Morocco, their lyrics were inspirational, political but most importantly, peaceful and their music utilizing traditional to modern instruments would produce a style of music that literally put their listeners in a trance and filling up venues.

Filmmaker Ahmed El Maanouni wanted to feature the band performing live, showing how their fans reacted to their music but also showcase how the guys were behind-the-scenes and show a personal side of each member.  Maanouni has described the music of Nass El Ghiwane as Morocco’s “soul music”.  And so in 1981, Ahmed El Maanouni’s musical documentary “Trances” was released in theaters.

For filmmaker Martin Scorsese, he was captivated by the film back in 1981 and when Scorsese went to create the World Cinema Project in 2007, a non-profit organization that preserves and presents marginalized and infrequently screened films from regions generally ill equipped to preserve their own cinema history.  The first film the World Cinema Project chose for restoration was “Trances” by Cineteca di Bollogna/L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory and was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007 and at Djemaa el-Fna square in Morocco.

And now “Trances” is one of the films included in the Criterion Collection release of the “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project” Blu-ray+DVD Combo Set Box Set which will be released in Dec. 2013.


“Trances” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:60:1), color. Shot in 16 mm, the film does maintain its color and grain and for the most part, a good looking film created in the early ’80s.   I didn’t notice any blemishes during my viewing of the film and the film doesn’t retain any problematic aging issues and looks good for a film made 30-years ago.

According to the Criterion Collection, “the digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original 16 mm camera and sound negatives, preserved by producer Izza Genini, and then blown up to 35 mm.  The sound negative was restored to Dolby SR and digital.  The restoration produced a new internegative for long-term preservation and was completed in May 2007.  Special thanks go to Izza Geinin and Ahmed El Maanouni for facilitating the restoration process.”


“Trances” is presented in Arabic LPCM 1.0 with English subtitles. Dialogue is clear and I didn’t notice any significant hiss, crackle or any major issues with audio during my viewing of the film.


“Trances” (as part of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”) – The Criterion Collection #689″ comes with the following special features:

  • Martin Scorsese – (2:00) Filmmaker Martin Scorsese talks about watching “Trances” back in 1981.
  • On Trances – (18:03) Musician Omar Sayed, producer Izza Genini, director Ahmed El maanouni and Martin Scorses discuss their connection to “Trances” and the music of Nass-El Ghiwane.


“Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project – The Criterion Collection #685-690″ comes with a 66-page booklet featuring the following essays: “Recalled to Life” a foreword by Kent Jones, “Mambety and Modernity” by Richard Porton on “Touki Bouki”, “El cine mexicano” by Charles Ramirez on “Redes”, “River of No Return” by Adrian Martin on “A River Called Titas”, “The Law of Nature” by Bilge Ebiri on “Dry Summer”, “Power to the People” by Sally Shafto on “Trances” and “Crossing Borders” by Kyung Hyun Kim on “The Housemaid”. Each Blu-ray and DVD are housed in cases that come with a slipcase.

“Trances” was my first introduction to the music of Nass-El Ghiwane and Ahmed El Maanouni’s film “Trances”.

And it was rather fascinating for me to see this legendary Moroccan band Nass-El Ghiwane, perform in front of a live audience and have so many people of all ages, showing up to the venue and literally become captivated by the band and their music.

As I watched the band perform and to hear them play the traditional instruments and music influenced by Gnawa music (ancient African Islamic spiritual religions songs and rhythms), I was also drawn in my the complexity and the deepness of the lyrics performed by the band.   But like many people we see in the film who are literally put into a trance while listening to their music, I found myself drawn into their music.

The film may not seem so different from today’s musical documentaries from showcasing live performances to behind-the-scenes footage to see a personal side of a band.  But back when Ahmed El Maanouni filmed “Trances”, we got to see each member and their mindset.  With the long hair/mustached Larbi Batma and the spectacle wearing Omar Sayed more as the vocal members of the group, the film shows us a side of Morocco during the ’80s but also archived footage of Morocco’s past, its rocky relationship with Portugal (as Morocco and Portugal have been involved in hundreds of years of war hundreds of years ago).

The film also gives a dedication to one of their deceased members, Boujemaa H’gour and how he was instrumental in convincing Omar to abandon Egyptian music for bssat, Moroccan folk theater.   But the most vocal is Larbi Batma, a poet but also a man who no doubt likes to get his point across.  But also going into discussion about Aïcha Kandicha, a historical figure from the 16th century.

What’s interesting is in the context of how Kandicha’s name is used in today’s vernacular to spook young boys of not doing anything bad or this mythological old wrinkly, toothless woman (or fairy ogre) would go after you.  But when Larbi talks about her, its more about how she was Morocco’s first resistant.  A woman raped by a Portuguese soldier, killed him and then later died in battle.

I’m not an erudite on Moroccan history or mythology to know if its factual but the way he talks about her with so much passion, I found very interesting because most of the time I have read about the name, it was more in a scary story, not a positive one.

But also getting to see the mindset of various members, especially when it comes to piracy and protecting their interests to just being friends and having fun with one another.

But the heart and soul of this music documentary is the band’s music and how they have captivated a generation or two and still today, many who discover their music are inspired by their music and lyrics.

While it’s one of those films that people either get it or don’t, you’re not going to find any Western type of drama that would be featured in something like the Maysle Brothers film “Gimme Shelter”, nor is it about the production of a concert and its fans such as Pennebaker’s “Monterrey Pop Festival”.

If anything, “Trances” has a similarity to music documentaries about the music and personal side, but unlike the typical rock or pop star that celebrates extravagant lifestyle or touring worldwide, these are people who are not in the music to make it rich, they are doing something they love and know that their music inspires thousands upon thousands of people who find inspiration with their music, especially the well-written, poetic lyrics.  Some to the point that they are caught up in a trance when they dance to their music.

While I know this film has a special place in Martin Scorsese’s heart and it was the first film restored by the World Cinema Project, it’s great to have a music documentary included in the Criterion Collection’s “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project” and the fact that the special feature follows up with the director Ahmed El Maanouni and a few members of the band in 2013.

Overall, Ahmed El Maanouni’s musical documentary showcasing Moroccan band Nass-El Ghiwane, is a wonderful inclusion for Criterion Collection’s “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”!


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