Contemporary World Cinema
In Casablanca, 20-year-old single woman Sofia (newcomer Maha Alemi) is in the advanced stages of pregnancy, unbeknownst to either her or her family, with whom she still lives. When her water breaks during a family dinner and the baby comes, her med school cousin Lena (Sarah Perles) comes to her immediate rescue. But Sofia and her family are faced with a hard problem: since sex outside of marriage is still considered a crime in Morocco, she and the baby’s father, the "unsuitable" working-class Omar, could end up going to prison for as long as a year if the authorities find out. Her upwardly mobile parents eventually whip into action and do all they can to save face—including forcing Sofia to marry Omar, despite their class-based misgivings—regardless of Sofia’s desires or feelings. Meryem Benm’Barek’s very well written and acted debut feature uses Sofia’s beleaguered situation to lay bare the sanctimony at the root of Morocco’s patriarchal culture. But she also gives the last word to her heroine.
"Benm’barek’s lean, nuanced script astutely… picks apart class hypocrisy within Moroccan society, where the haute bourgeoisie are hellbent on preserving status and their aura of European sophistication no matter the individual consequences… Both lead actresses are exceptionally well cast, and although Alemi has the more thankless role… she subtly turns the tables to reveal a strength of character previously kept hidden. Perles is a joy to watch, conveying Lena’s genuine concern for her cousin’s situation with a sense of moral outrage that’s as naïve as it is sympathetic; her understated control of the slightest facial expression means she owns the screen in each scene. Camera movements are finely calibrated to every tonal shift, moving from discretely observational in the dinner scene to a jerky familiarity when searching for Omar’s apartment and on to a coolly fixed stare as Sofia cunningly turns the situation to her advantage."—Jay Weissberg, Variety
Best Screenplay, Un Certain Regard, Cannes 18