A month ago, Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch and his leading actress Loubna Abidar of the controversial Moroccan drama, ‘Much Loved," which was banned by the country, were summoned to court on charges of “pornography, indecency and inciting minors to debauchery," and were asked to defend the film’s “immorality” before a court in Marrakech this month – this is according to reports from various Moroccan press outlets I follow – although no word on whether the court date actually happened.
This news came a few weeks after the stark social drama about prostitution, set in Marrakech today, was 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 in a press statement in early June.
Lead actress Abidar has also received death threats.
Selected for the Cannes 2015 Directors’ Fortnight sidebar program, 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), follows 4 prostitutes struggling to survive and thrive in the major city in northwest Morocco.
What is most odd about all this is that, as the local press reports, no representatives from the Moroccan ruling body that has banned the film, and that summoned the filmmaker and lead actress to defend it, has seen the film! So what are they basing their decisions on? According to UK news outlet, The Independent, their decision to ban the film "was based on two clips leaked on the internet, one of which showed three sex workers in a car speaking about their clients, with one saying she hoped to get ‘a Saudi Arabian man who is good looking, nice and has a small penis.’"
The above saucy poster, which debuted when the film premiered at Cannes in May, didn’t help matters either.
I’ll say that, 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. It 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 for 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," 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 Moroccan 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.
Currently, "Much Loved" only has a France release date, which is set for September 16, 2015.
A first release trailer for the film has surfaced and is embedded below – although, sadly, as it’s for the film’s France release in September, it’s not subtitled in English, but in French. However, this gives you a visual intro to what the film looks, sounds and feels like. You can also figure out what’s happening in some of the scenes, just based on action: