Much Loved: The sorrow of Marrakesh’s pleasure girls
by Bénédicte Prot
- CANNES 2015: Nabil Ayouch paints a portrait of the nocturnal life of a group of prostitutes in Marrakech, which is at once realistic and raw, respectful and dignified
In Much Loved [+see also:
film profile] by Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch, a production by Paris-based outfit Les Films du Nouveau Monde that is on the programme of the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival, the first exchanges we hear in the car taking Noha, Randa, Soukaina and Hlima, four Marrakesh prostitutes, to the birthday party being held for a Saudi sheik, are fairly crude. And yet they are lucky enough not to be hooking on the streets, not to be a bunch of "whores past their sell-by date" who sell their bodies to whomever they can. They have a chauffeur who gently watches over them, and they even appear to be having fun, to be taking pleasure in this non-stop partying, filled with music and dancing, which they doll themselves up for every night.
Make no mistake, however: the ins and outs of their profession are sordid – and the film does not hide a single one of these details from us, as the viewer is totally integrated into this small group of pleasure girls, who no longer have a shred of modesty amongst themselves, either in their words or in their actions. Our four heroines still hope to be able to avoid certain acts, although they willingly accept the rules of their occupation. They sell themselves with no strings attached: they smile as they listen to a client reciting a poem to them, they mew like a kitten if they’re asked to – in short, they fulfil all needs, even the most demeaning, as long as the clients themselves respect the terms of the transaction. Without turning them into "Roman girls" à la Moravia, there is generosity to be found in their way of playing the game, as well as a great deal of lucidity, and that is what makes them dignified, and even allows them to decide on the rules of said game themselves, as far as that is possible... Because even by taking all the precautions they can, and by following a whole protocol, the very nature of the job means that they cannot always keep a handle on it, and that somewhere along the line, they will all have to suffer in this world of flesh.
Over the film’s running time, as the viewer lives among them and shares their most intimate moments, from the pain to the laughter, Ayouch skilfully and tenderly succeeds in tracing out that fine line between the independence and the alienation of these women who are brimming with vitality, and depicting the mixture of pity and respect that they command – particularly as in the society they live in, they are almost thought of as emancipated women. All of these impressions come together, making for an unembellished portrait, but one that is tender and dignified, because it doesn’t take long for us to start admiring the strength of these four women who exhibit a stirring zest for life – and who are also wise, in a way, as a result of everything they have experienced and seen – and we soon fall in love with them. Not least because they even manage to bid us farewell with a burst of laughter.
Much Loved is sold internationally by Celluloid Dreams.
(Translated from French)