Moroccan director Maryam Touzani’s debut feature, Adam, tells the story of a young woman in Casablanca battling to overcome the societal stigma of falling pregnant out of wedlock.
If you’re feeling a sense of deja vu right now, you’ve probably seen 2018’s Sofia, a movie also made by a first-time female director that was similarly about the trials and tribulations of a pregnant and unmarried young woman in Casablanca.
Both films earned selection, a year apart, in the Un Certain Regard category at Cannes, which runs parallel to the Palme d’Or competition and recognises non-traditional storytelling.
But this is where the similarities end.
Where the titular character in Sofia was a woman in pregnancy denial who gives birth and then goes looking for the father, Adam examines the issue from the perspective of a woman who has fully accepted her situation and is resigned to working through it without help from anyone, let alone her baby daddy.
It opens with a heavily pregnant Samia (Nisrin Erradi) going door-to-door in Casablanca, looking for work and, more importantly, somewhere to sleep. The young woman has fled to the city to escape the shame she would have faced in her village for falling pregnant, hatching a plan to have the baby in the big smoke and hand it to an adoption agency, before returning home as if nothing had happened.
However, the plan is derailed rather quickly when both a job and suitable accommodation fail to materialise — turns out Casablancan compassion is no match for the gossip that would ensue if one were to take in a woman in Samia’s predicament.
Widow and local baker Abla (played by the great Lubna Azabal) has no time for gossip but the joyless woman is equally unmoved, initially at least, by Samia’s plight when the latter rocks up one day looking for a job.
Abla’s cold heart defrosts ever so slightly at the sight of the pregnant woman sleeping in the street, so she reluctantly invites Samia to spend the night on the proviso she skedaddles at first light.
Whether it’s the young woman’s instant rapport with Abla’s eight-year-old daughter, Warda, played by the charming Douae Belkhaouda, or her willingness to help out in the shop, an unlikely alliance soon forms to the unexpected benefit of both women.
Azabal, in particular, is brilliant in a tricky role that is so critical to the film’s success.
And Touzani’s eye for the small details is key, too, and the result is an impressive and subtly powerful paean to female empowerment that holds your full attention from the first scene to the last.
A story of food and female empowerment set against the backdrop of modern-day Casablanca
Starring Nisrin Erradi, Lubna Azabal
In cinemas Thursday