Intimacy in Nabil Ayouch's 'Horses of God'

Responding to remarks about certain moments of subtle yet interrupted intimacy between the protagonists of Horses of God (2012), Moroccan-French filmmaker Nabil Ayouch highlighted the relationship between intimacy and space. The film tells the story of the gradual radicalization of four young men from the Sidi Moumen shanty town on Casablanca’s outskirts that took part in the co-ordinated terrorist attacks that rocked the city in May 2003.

Speaking to the #InTheSameBoat team as part of our research, Ayouch highlighted the insular shantytowns of Casablanca as symptomatic of Moroccan society in general – both lacking spaces where human relationships can develop. If there is no space where a boy can tell a girl that he likes her, if there is no space for two individuals to spend time with one another, be it in public or in private, then the development of sustained and healthy intimacy is suppressed. Without this, personal and social development can only suffer, especially in a diverse society that confronts individuals with a whole spectrum of day-to-day norms.

The four young men in Horses of God all experienced poverty, injustice, violence, unemployment; but what made them particularly vulnerable to the influence of Islamic radicalization was social isolation, according to Ayouch. The fact that the shanty town residents were completely cut off from the metropolitan area of Casablanca made that space unfamiliar. By extension, it made the protagonists potentially much more vulnerable to a rhetoric that branded the city and its inhabitants as decadent infidels – the ‘Other’ par excellence.

We usually think about intimacy in terms of bodies: the phrase ‘physical intimacy’ is usually a euphemism for sex. By extension, intimacy is considered to be something found exclusively in the private sphere. Yet drawing the connection between intimacy and its correlation with the availability of space makes intimacy relevant in a social context, too. Whether in the family home or the public space of the urban environment, intimacy is fundamentally shaped by the ways in which humans are encouraged to, or deterred from, forming links with those around them.

If we consider intimacy to be one kind of model for interpersonal relationships, then we must ask the question of what kind of space is required to foster intimacy or at least familiarity across diverse ethnic, religious, cultural or groups? If the four young men from Sidi Moumen had a link to the world outside the slum, a sense of social intimacy with the metropolis of Casablanca and its diversity, would they have been able to commit the terrorist acts they did in 2003?

This becomes particularly pertinent when talking about migration and xenophobia in Morocco but in any other country facing similar issues: if we want to imagine a multi-ethnic, multicultural society, then we also need to imagine the spaces required to foster familiarity via physical contact and interaction with the various ‘Others’. The matter then expands beyond creating opportunity in terms of socioeconomic means: it must include provisions for shared spaces, and an infrastructure that facilitates moving about and around such spaces.