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Moroccan Director Touzani Explores Social Stigma in New Film at Cannes

Adam, a film directed by Maryam Touzani from Tangier, screens at Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 21 and 23 to standing ovations.

Rabat – Moroccan director Maryam Touzani’s film, Adam, is about the reality of having a baby out of wedlock in Morocco. The story was inspired by a pregnant woman who was going door-to-door asking for work.

“She was from a village and she was heavily pregnant. My mother had no work for her but was afraid to let her go… she wasn’t in a good way and had clearly nowhere to go,” Touzani said.”The girl had been going door-to-door, so my mother took her in for a few days until we worked something out.”

Touzani learned that before the woman began knocking on doors in that neighborhood that day, “she had been going from town to town after running away from her family, working as a cleaner and hairdresser until people noticed her predicament and then she would have to move on.”

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Touzani’s own mother at the time was a widow, making her also a single mother but without the prejudice that comes with having a child out of wedlock. In Morocco, sex without marriage is illegal. Unmarried women in labor are arrested at hospitals, so instead many of them give birth in secret and even then are shunned from society. As a result, many unmarried mothers sell or abandon their newborns, who then become street children.

“In a country like mine, it’s the biggest shame for a woman to have a child out of wedlock,” said Touzani. “She doesn’t want to disappoint her parents so she cannot tell the truth.”

“So she stayed with us until she had the baby,” said Touzani. The woman revealed that her plan was to abandon the child immediately after birth. “I experienced how this woman was trying to suffocate her maternal instinct,” Touzani said, “She ignored her belly growing and tried to pretend that nothing was going on. The whole experience moved me very deeply.”

Touzani began to write the film Adam years later, when she was pregnant with her first child. She said that the woman who stayed with her small family those days came back to her memory.

Touzani chose to keep the way the child was conceived a secret, an interesting choice for the film. The audience never knows whether the woman was raped or had consensual sex.“It’s important for an audience coming from a country such as mine, to not judge,” Touzani explained. “If you give her a past, it would be like she is guilty of something, or not guilty of something and that is really not what the film is about.”

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The movie version also takes place in the medina of Casablanca, rather Tangier, where Touzani is from. In Morocco, Casablanca generally symbolizes modernity and progressiveness. Yet Touzani points out, “there are so many beautiful things about our culture that are disappearing because modernity takes over and everybody is always in a hurry to do things. So I really wanted to bring this bread back through the process.”

There are so many layers of complexity in the story behind Touzani’s film though the unwed, pregnant woman is the outcast, Touzani also associated the film with her mother as a widow: “The widowed mother is not fine and that was something I was very surprised to discover. If a widow is young, then she becomes prey. A lot of men think that she is available because there is no man in her house, and being a widow, she is free to do what she wants with her body.”

Director Touzani also explained her reasoning behind featuring taboo topics: “There is a facade that everything is all right on the outside even if people are tormented inside. It is good to let in some air and light, and people are relieved and happy things are being spoken about.”

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