Cannes 2019 Women Directors: Meet Maryam Touzani – “Adam”

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Maryam Touzani is a director, screenwriter, and actress. Her first short film, 2012’s “When They Slept,” was selected by a number of prestigious international festivals and received a total of 17 awards. In 2015, her second short, “Aya Goes to the Beach,” won Cairo’s Audience Award, among prizes. Touzani co-wrote and appeared in husband Nabil Ayouch’s 2017 film “Razzia.”

“Adam” will premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival on May 20.

W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.

MT: “Adam” is a film about an unexpected encounter between women in the old medina of Casablanca and how this encounter changes both their destinies forever.

Abla, shut off from life, raises her eight-year-old daughter by herself and runs a local bakery in her home to make a living. Samia has fled her village and come down to the “big city” to have her child anonymously and go back straight after.

Both will come face to face with their own truth, in a society where social mores can be extremely oppressive and merciless when it comes to women.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

MT: Life.

Many years back, I met an unwed mother who had fled her home and whom my parents sheltered. I was with her through the end of her pregnancy, and I accompanied her to give up her child for adoption a few days later. I was deeply moved by all I had witnessed. I had seen the birth of a mother’s instinct, her desperate effort to suppress it, and the violence of the separation she felt she was obliged to make.

I started writing “Adam” when I got pregnant myself. It stirred inside of me the urgent need to tell this story. This desire merged with my experience of loss and denial, and so the characters of both protagonists, Abla and Samia, starting taking shape.

W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?

MT: That there is no right or wrong. That it is not always easy to be courageous, and that desperate situations can sometimes lead to desperate acts.

But, that deep inside, there is always hope and beauty, though sometimes it can reveal itself in the most unexpected manner. That we can constantly be reborn to life.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

MT: The biggest challenge in making the film was to be able to keep up the artistic line and at the same time be able to make the characters evolve behind closed doors. “Adam” is a film with very few characters—essentially two women and a little girl. The audience witnesses the life of the medina through the window of Abla’s small bakery.

“Adam” is an intimate film, where detail has the utmost importance. I wanted to film these women in a manner to bring out their truth and to make them advance in their inner journey with no artifice—to be a witness of their evolution, through my camera, but constantly trying to keep the right distance with them.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

MT: I was extremely lucky because I had a wonderful producer, Nabil Ayouch, who is also a filmmaker and believed in my film from the start. He was there throughout the whole process, from start to finish.

The Moroccan Cinematographic Center supported the film as well, and it allowed us to get started. I also was lucky to have a great distributor, Advitam, that after reading the script decided to support the project. A co-production with Artemis in Belgium, a French television acquisition, and others soon came in, allowing us to complete the film.

W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

MT: I love literature, and the way words can make you travel through your imagination. I love reading and writing. However, there was a moment in which I felt I needed to express myself through images because it felt right, because the things I wanted to say made their way to me visually.

I’m terribly inspired by the city I live in, Casablanca. It is a city that is tough, violent, and beautiful—full of contradictions. The city and its inhabitants are a real source of inspiration on a daily basis.

W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?

MT: I don’t remember having gotten any bad advice, in reality. I’ve had people tell me different things, but it was always from their subjective perception of things and with the intention of contributing positively.

The best advice I have gotten was from my husband, Nabil Ayouch, when shooting my first short film. I was quite anxious and had very little experience. He said, “If you believe in what you want to say, then trust yourself and say it. That is all that matters in the end.” It still applies for me today, and I believe it always will.

W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?

MT: It is a bit of the same advice. What matters is what you have to say, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman. It is the truth of your approach, your deep desire, and your sincerity that matter.

Being a female director is not always easy; we have to face other challenges that are inherent to who we are. But it is all good—take all the extra beauty and sensitivity that comes with it and make it matter, make it heard.

I would have never been able to make this film if I wasn’t a woman, and I would not have told this story in this particular manner. So although sometimes the struggle might be hard, it is definitely worth it. It is essential for us as women to tell our stories and to make our voices heard through the films we make.

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

MT: That is quite hard because there are many woman-directed films I love. However, one of my favorites is Naomi Kawase’s “The Mourning Forest” because of its reading of nature, its subtle exploration of human emotion, and its style, which is so close to documentary at times and which makes it even more genuine. It is a film with a very particular rhythm. There aren’t a lot of things that happen, but it is extremely poignant emotionally.

W&H: It’s been over a year since the reckoning in Hollywood and the global film industry began. What differences have you noticed since the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements launched?

MT: I think there has been a genuine awareness regarding the place of women in the industry, and it is wonderful to see that there are concrete actions towards equality worldwide, with major festivals such as Cannes setting the example in this quest for parity.

This is obviously the beginning of something revolutionary, though I believe the battle is still not won. There are yet many things to be changed in the mentalities, but today I think that, as women, we’re on an optimistic path to bringing along these changes.