It is the unflinchingly scrutiny of the doleful Sofia’s face that made this film for me. Behind that impassive mask, that became animated only at certain moments, I could see the naivete that had brought Sofia to this untenable point in her life.
Director Meryem Benm’Barek tackles a difficult issue; the mandatory jail sentence for sex outside marriage in Morocco. Sofia’s (Maha Alemi) family are on the verge of an important investment with their neighbour. They are a respectable family and Sofia’s aunt Leila (Lubna Azabal) has married into wealth and social standing. Complaining of stomach pains, Sofia lets her cousin Lena (Sarah Perles) examine her. She is in labour but can’t be treated at the hospital without her husband’s papers. Without them she will be arrested and jailed.
For Sofia there are no good outcomes and with Lena’s help, she tries to navigate a path that will cause the least damage. I read some criticism of this film from fellow MIFF goers, particularly for the “stunningly leaden, seemingly disinterested” central performance. For me this was the point of the film, the mask that Sofia adopts and that we believe for much of the film. It is only towards the end that we see it crack and we realise what has really been going on in this young woman’s life.
Her gender most of all but also the standing of her family create an inescapable future for her, a situation that will never allow her a life that she might choose. This is heartbreaking.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.