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Filmmaker Maryam Touzani Talks About Her Cannes Debut, ‘Adam’

Alissa Simon

Debuting feature helmer-writer Maryam Touzani makes her Cannes bow with “Adam,” in Un Certain Regard. The Casablanca-set drama shows how a pregnant stranger changes the lives of a mother and her young daughter.

What inspired your plot?

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When I moved back to Tangier after college, one day a young woman knocked on our door, looking for a job. She was heavily pregnant, and behind her smile she looked tired and distraught. My parents couldn’t imagine letting her go in her state, especially since then most unwed mothers ended up giving birth in terrible situations, often on the street, because it was illegal to have a child out of wedlock. She stayed with us until she gave birth, and I went with her to give up her child for adoption a few days later because she believed she had no other choice. The experience moved me deeply.

What was your biggest challenge?

Keeping up the artistic line throughout the film, in an almost enclosed space, with a window open towards the world, and having light and color accompany the evolution of my characters within this space. I wanted to dig under their skin and bring out their inner being through the image, paying attention to the most insignificant details. I was very inspired by the paintings of Caravaggio, Vermeer, Georges de la Tour.

Please talk a little about your cast.

It was essential for me to find the truth I was looking for separately in each of the characters, but also that there be a real alchemy between them, since the film is totally centered around two women and a girl. For the role of Samia, I first looked into non-professional actresses with real-life experience that resembled those of the character. However, I quickly realized that the sort of intensity and endurance necessary for such a part required a professional actress. When I met Nisrine Erradi, I was totally blown away by her talent and sensitivity. She immersed herself in her part, trying to [capture] pregnancy, even putting on weight. For Abla, played by Lubna Azabal, I had seen her in “Incendies,” and admired her work. She moved to Morocco to prepare and experienced the life of local women in the ancient medina, learned how to make Moroccan pastries, etc. For Warda, I tested many child actors, and had no “coup de coeur.” I was beginning to lose hope, when one day, while location scouting, we ran into three girls playing in an alley. I was immediately struck by Douae. She had that mixture of innocence and mischief I was looking for.

You have a long history of collaborating with your producer-husband, Nabil Ayouch, on film projects, but I hear you have another recent collaboration.

Yes, I have closely collaborated with him on the writing and on the set of his last films. I have learned a lot from him, from his work with his actors, his team, his sensitivity and his quest for truth in what he says. For me, he is a real source of inspiration. But I guess you are referring to our son Noam, whom we almost called Adam. I finished the first version of the screenplay right before he was born. And in reality, he was at the origin of it all. When I got pregnant, I found myself often thinking of that woman my parents had taken in. Of what her life was like, of her child, of how hard it must have been for her to give him up. I experienced, in my own skin, the beauty and violence of it all. And so I felt the urgency, the irrepressible need to write.

What’s next?

I am working with Nabil Ayouch and Rita Quessar, another scriptwriter, on a series called “Blackout,” which is a real-time social issues thriller-drama set on the border of Europe and Africa, in Ceuta.

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