Cannes: Nabil Ayouch Explores Underbelly of Morocco in 'Much Loved'

'Much Loved'

The French-Moroccan director's Fortnight entry examines prostitution in a starkly realist drama.

Never one to back down from examining Moroccan society, director Nabil Ayouch has returned to Cannes with the challenging Much Loved, about both the gritty and glamorous sides of the lives of prostitutes in Marrakech.

The follow up to his 2012 Un Certain Regard entry God’s Horses, which took home the Francois Chalais prize, made its debut in the Directors Fortnight.

The French-Moroccan Ayouch’s upbringing in the tough suburbs of Paris has led to his interest in the stories of outsiders, and he has made Morocco and its culture the subject of his most of his films.“There are two camps who are fighting one another in the Arab world and we need films like this,” Ayouch said.  

Ayouch aimed to make gritty film in the vein of Martin Scorsese and Sidney Lumet’s seventies films. “They were questioning society they were living in with a point of view that was sometimes very harsh, but those films made the country grow up because it created debate. And that’s what we need. If we don’t have any debate we are dead,” the director said. 

The result is an examination of the economic and emotional cost of prostitution in Morocco, that isn’t afraid to hold the Saudi and European men that exploit the girls — “I don’t say women, because some are very, very young,” Ayouch notes — for pleasure. The director examines the topic with a neutral, yet challenging eye that he says is “realistic without any compromise.”

For a society where the subject is taboo, it was a risky move for Ayouch. The Moroccan Cinema Center declined state funding twice without giving a reason; as a result, Ayouch had to go it alone. “It’s harder but in a certain way it’s also better, because then you have to really, really know why you want to do it because you are putting everything you have in the film,” he said. “In the end, I think if we had had money from the government this film would not be here in Cannes.”

He cast non-professional actors from the neighborhoods where prostitution is common in Morocco, and brought on a female-dominated team that worked for little pay because of their devotion to the subject. The lack of funding made it a personal fight.

Working with director of photography Virginie Surdej, first AD Camilla Montasier and adviser Maryam Touzani also helped the film achieve a sense of intimacy and immediacy that wouldn’t have been possible with a male crew, he said.  

“I wanted to show these girls and show the reality of their life, to destroy the myth and go deeply into their humanity, without saying if they are good or bad. I’m not saying anything, I’m showing. Sometimes it’s hard to take, but that’s it, that’s the reality,” the director said.