Controversial Moroccan film Much Loved attracts crowds, wins Carthage festival award
Tunis - Nabil Ayouch’s Much Loved gained critical acclaim and a festival award despite divided opinions from the Carthage Film Festival audience about the movie, which was banned in Morocco.
The film’s premiere sold out quickly, attracting hundreds of festival goers despite tight security ordered after the terror attack on a busload of presidential guards in Tunis. The delicate nature of the topic of the film prompted festival officials to further tighten security.
“We came to see what this is about and we have been waiting since the morning to get tickets. It was banned and we want to see why they banned it in Morocco,” said Amina, a 22-year-old student.
“Cinema usually has no taboos, so we are interested in knowing why the film and the cast were attacked. It is also a form of support to art that should defy all taboos.”
Tunisia is the first country to screen the movie, which depicts prostitution in Morocco, following the ban by Rabat. Actress Loubna Abidar was assaulted and beaten in Morocco for her depiction of a prostitute in the film.
Moroccan authorities deemed the movie has serious contempt for moral values and Moroccan women.
Abidar posted photos of injuries she received after being attacked for appearing in the film. She claimed that police and medics refused to help. Abidar then left Morocco for France.
Following the Tunis screening, Ayouch said Much Loved is an account of stories of prostitutes he met over a year and a half prior to filming.
“I have a fascination with the image of the female prostitute in the Arab world for years and especially in Morocco as a warrior, a rebel and a part of a resistance. They have a unique role in the lives of their country and their society,” Ayouch said.
“I met 200 to 300 prostitutes from all over the country, which was emotionally moving. They told me about their destiny, their path and their intimacies on which I based the characters in the film.”
One of the official complaints regarded nudity in the film. Ayouch explained that the nature of the film demanded such a depiction of the lives of sex workers.
“The scenes with nudity are not pornographic. There were more provocative scenes in the history of Arab cinema. I could have chosen a more politically correct manner to depict the subject but I didn’t. My purpose was not to provoke either,” he said.
“The film is the reflection of the way I spent this year and a half I spent with the prostitutes. Their lives were hard and there is violence that I wanted to convey to the viewers the way it affected me when they told me their stories.”
Ayouch said he was pleased with the way Much Loved was received at the festival.
“I think it is a beautiful gift that the movie was selected for its aesthetic qualities to be in the competition and it was beautiful to see how the audience received the film. The Tunisian audience lived with the film,” Ayouch said.
“This is the first time I see an Arabic audience reacting this way in moments that did not trigger the same reactions when screened abroad. It was alive. For me, as a filmmaker who worked for two years, this reaction is a form of a bond with the audience that I am looking for.”
Following the screening, festival organisers put together a discussion on the theme of Roles, Actresses and Violence to denounce violence against actresses and to express support for Abidar.
“What happened to the actress Loubna Abidar, who was a victim of an attack, is alarming,” Tunisian actress Sawssen Maalej said. “Also, it is shameful that she was insulted and ignored after the attack as if being an actress does not make you a citizen entitled to rights in your country.”
Much Loved won the Carthage Film Festival’s jury prize but the Tunisian audience was divided about the film.
“I personally expected it to be high quality and to have dwelt on political things but I was disappointed by what I saw: 70% pornography, 20% people swearing at each other and 10% prostitution, poverty, child abuse, women’s rights, freedom, contradictions in Arab societies between outward conservatism and inward voluptuousness,” said Mohsen Hrizi, a teacher. “The only thing that this movie added is that it tried to be very faithful in portraying ugliness.”
Ahmed, a student, said: “It was emotional to watch. The misery of these prostitutes was revealed in a way that shocks and makes you think about their lives. Perhaps some people could not stand the nudity and sex scenes but it could not have been portrayed otherwise.
“Whether you appreciate the film or not, it does not leave you untouched as you leave. It definitely opened my eyes to many things.”