Selected for the Cannes 2015 Directors’ Fortnight sidebar program is Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch’s “Much Loved” (his follow-up to 2012’s “God’s Horses,” which competed in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival), the drama, a stark social drama about prostitution, set in Marrakech today, has been banned by the filmmaker’s country (Morocco), because the film “undermines the moral values, and the dignity of Moroccan women, and [is] a flagrant attack on the kingdom’s image,” the Communications Ministry said.
The controversial film follows 4 prostitutes struggling to survive and thrive in the major city in northwest Morocco.
The ministry promises to stand firm on its ban on the film, which has received mostly lukewarm reviews since its Cannes debut. While it most certainly does push the envelope, with a remarkable frankness, it really doesn’t say anything particularly new about prostitution, and even the “second class” treatment of women in general in a patriarchy. Although I suppose for those entirely unfamiliar with the terrain, it could be an education.
The film also tackles the relationships between prostitutes and their families, given that some parents even push their children into prostitution.
Previously titled “Expired,” “Much Loved” is an independently-financed French-Moroccan co-production, which director Ayouch says was intentional because, “I decided to keep the budget low in order to safeguard my freedom of expression.”
While prostitution is widespread in Morocco, it’s also a social taboo, which led to the Moroccan Cinema Centre rejecting it when Ayouch presented the project to them funding, twice; and so he decided to move forward with it solo. I suppose that should’ve been a sign of things that are now unfolding.
“I want to go beneath the surface and show the real lives of these women, who are treated extremely badly. Many people come to Marrakech for sex – from the Gulf countries, from Europe. They treat these women extremely badly. They have a kind of superiority complex – just because they have money they think they can buy everything,” said the filmmaker.
Comparing the story to that told in his “God’s Horses,” Ayouch adds: “In both cases, the main characters are marginalized. I’ve always been attracted by this theme. It’s very close to me – trying to depict the army that lives in the shadows. People who have lots of things to say and express. We normally don’t want to hear them – even if what they have to say is very important.”
Expect what he describes as “fictions du réel,” which suggests a documentary-style shooting approach to the film, giving it a realism, which is definitely amplified by a cast made up of non-professional actors, with some dialogue improvised.
“At present we’re seeing a new kind of filmmaking from the US and Europe, that makes us believe that we’re in the middle of reality. People don’t normally expect to see this style of filmmaking from the Arab world,” he says.
With all the press that this ban has given “Much Loved,” it should only help bring it even more international awareness, so I’d expect a USA distributor to pick it up – just like his last film, “God’s Horses,” which is streaming on Netflix, by the way.
Despite their rejection of “Expired,” the Morrocan Cinema Centre did recently grant Ayouch a $500,000 grant for his next feature film, titled “Razzia,” which I previously profiled on this blog – a sci-fi/futuristic project that imagines what the Arab world will look like 50+ years from now. The plot focuses on a tiny, privileged elite living in high-security enclaves cut off from the poor masses. The story will be told through the eyes of characters from each world.
Ayouch is also in preproduction on that film, currently working with architects, matte paintings and 3D special effects to make the city featured in the plot look like a mixture of traditional and high-tech buildings.