Franco-Moroccan filmmaker Nabil Ayouch tells Melanie Goodfellow how his latest work Razzia grew out of controversy around his last film Much Loved.
Nabil Ayouch returns to Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) for the fifth time with his searing critique of Moroccan society Razzia, which plays in the Muhr Feature competition and is his country’s best foreign-language film Oscar submission this year.
The work opens with a Berber proverb on screen declaring: “Happy is the person who can live their life as they please”. Ayouch explains it is the leitmotif of the film.
“I wanted to capture the lives of individuals who are all marked by a strong desire for freedom, whether it be from society, their families, the state, or even their relationships,” says Ayouch.
“It grew out this sense of suffocation I feel within Moroccan society, that I live every day and that became all the more apparent to me with my last feature-length film Much Loved, when I saw the incredibly violent reactions it provoked at home.”
The 2015 picture, about three women working as prostitutes in Marrakesh, premiered in Cannes Directors’ Fortnight but was quickly banned back home. One of the lead actresses was later forced to flee Morocco after she was violently assaulted on the street.
In Razzia, Ayouch paints a rich fresco of life in Casablanca, interlacing lives from across the social spectrum, including a Berber schoolmaster who quits his post in a remote mountain village after he is forced to teach in Arabic; a Freddie Mercury-loving singer from the slum quarter of Sidi Moumen; a restaurant owner hailing from the city’s dwindling Jewish community, and a fragile teenager growing up with a gilded lifestyle.
A sense of frustration runs through all their storylines. When some of these lives collide in a spectacular final scene, the latent tension bubbling under the surface in the city explodes on the screen.
Ayouch collaborated on the screenplay with writer, filmmaker and wife Maryam Touzani, who would go on to play a beautiful, stylish woman at odds with the calls for modesty on the streets in the film.
“It’s a character we created together but we weren’t planning for Maryam to play the role in the beginning, it just happened naturally as we were writing,” says Ayouch.
“This collaboration grew out of the fact that we had lived through the ordeal of Much Loved together. There was this populist backlash, this hatred which was directed towards the actresses, my family and me which went on for months. At the same time, every evening we would tell ourselves that something positive would be born out of the situation.”