Cannes hails ‘heartrending’ Moroccan film about unmarried mothers

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The cast and crew behind ‘Adam’ appear for a photo call at the Cannes Film Festival. (Ammar Abd Rabbo/Arab News)
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The cast and crew behind ‘Adam’ appear for a photo call at the Cannes Film Festival. (Ammar Abd Rabbo/Arab News)
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The cast and crew behind ‘Adam’ appear for a photo call at the Cannes Film Festival. (Ammar Abd Rabbo/Arab News)
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The cast and crew behind ‘Adam’ appear for a photo call at the Cannes Film Festival. (Ammar Abd Rabbo/Arab News)
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The cast and crew behind ‘Adam’ appear for a photo call at the Cannes Film Festival. (Ammar Abd Rabbo/Arab News)
Updated 21 May 2019
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Cannes hails ‘heartrending’ Moroccan film about unmarried mothers

  • The movie explores the story of an unmarried mother in Morocco
  • It is based on a real-life encounter by the director

CANNES: Maryam Touzani never forgot the day a young woman knocked on the door of her home in Tangier asking for work.

“She was from a village and she was heavily pregnant. My mother had no work for her but was afraid to let her go... she wasn’t in a good way and had clearly nowhere to go,” the Moroccan actress and director said.

Sex outside marriage is illegal in the Muslim-majority country, and at the time a single mother who tried to give birth in a hospital would be thrown in jail.

“The girl had been going door-to-door, so my mother took her in for a few days until we worked something out.

“But there was no solution — she had been going from town to town after running away from her family, working as a cleaner and hairdresser until people noticed her predicament and then she would have to move on.

“So she stayed with us until she had the baby,” said Touzani, whose powerful new film “Adam,” at the Cannes film festival, was inspired by the woman’s heartbreaking dilemma over what to do with the child.

“She wanted to give up her baby straight away to give him a chance of a decent life, and to restart her own and become a respectable woman again,” Touzani told AFP.

But when the baby arrived, things weren’t so simple.

“Because she gave birth over a bank holiday weekend, she had to keep the baby until the adoption office opened. I was with her as she tried to suppress the maternal extinct, to put distance between herself and the child. It was painful to watch and really shook me.

“Little by little I saw her resistance break” and the pain grow as the bank holiday drew to an end. “I went with her to give the baby up,” Touzani said.

The hell that woman went through came home to when she became pregnant herself shooting “Razzia,” a huge hit in the kingdom in 2017, which she wrote and starred in.

“When I felt the baby move inside me I began thinking of her and I understood. And straight away I started to write, it poured out of me...”

Already talked of as an Oscars foreign-language contender, “Adam” shines a light on a hidden woman’s world in the conservative North African country.

Critics at Cannes hailed how the first-time director turned this “deceptively simple story... into gold” with the Hollywood Reporter praising its “great delicacy... made heartrending by the superb performances of Lubna Azabal and Nisrin Erradi.”

In the film, a village girl who flees to Casablanca played by Erradi is reluctantly taken in by a widowed baker (Azabal) hiding her own grief.

While Touzani does not go there in her touching, intimate tale, unmarried mothers are complete pariahs in Morocco, she said, often regarded as prostitutes.

“It is the worst thing that can happen to a woman,” she told AFP.

Until 2004 their children’s birth could not even be registered, meaning they have no legal status. “They simply didn’t exist,” she said.

The shame is so intense that “children are often sold or abandoned,” adding to the country’s army of street children.

“There are so many terrible stories,” Touzani said.

The writer-director has not shied from touching on raw nerves in her homeland.

Her husband Nabil Ayouch’s banned feature “Much Loved” was based on a documentary of the same name she made about prostitution.

It was branded “an affront to moral values and Moroccan women” shortly after its premiere at Cannes, with actress Loubna Abidar forced to flee to France after being attacked in the street in Casablanca.

“Razzia,” in which Touzani played the lead, also touched on taboos.

But she is convinced many who condemned the films in public were secretly pleased they had brought issues out into the open that Morocco needs to deal with.

“There is a facade that everything is all right on the outside even if people are tormented inside. It is good to let in some air and light, and people are relieved and happy things are being spoken about.”

“I am not at all afraid for ‘Adam’. In any case, nothing comes from fear.”


Skin deep: Japan’s ‘washi’ paper torn by modern life

Updated 8 min ago
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Skin deep: Japan’s ‘washi’ paper torn by modern life

  • Chinzei’s product, the world’s thinnest paper, has helped save historical documents at major museums and libraries
  • The traditional hand-made paper is manufactured from plants called kozo, or mulberry, which has fibers that are much longer than materials used for paper in the west such as wood and cotton

HIDAKA, Japan: Once an indispensable part of daily life in Japan, ultra-thin washi paper was used for everything from writing and painting to lampshades, umbrellas, and sliding doors, but demand has plunged as lifestyles have become more westernized.
Despite its 1,300-year history and UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status, washi paper is struggling to attract consumers and the market value has dropped by more than 50 percent in the past two decades.
But at a small workshop in western Japan, Hiroyoshi Chinzei, a fourth-generation traditional paper maker, creates washi with a unique purpose that may help revive interest — both at home and abroad.
Chinzei’s product, the world’s thinnest paper, has helped save historical documents at major museums and libraries — including the Louvre in Paris, the British Museum and Washington’s Library of Congress — from decay.
“Washi paper is more flexible and durable” than what Japanese refer to as “western paper,” which disintegrates into tiny pieces when it becomes very old, the 50-year-old told AFP.
The traditional hand-made paper is manufactured from plants called kozo, or mulberry, which has fibers that are much longer than materials used for paper in the west such as wood and cotton.
“Old Japanese books from the seventh or eighth century remain in good condition... thanks to the fibers of the kozo plants,” the washi maker told AFP at his small factory in Hidaka, a village 640 kilometers (400 miles) southwest of Tokyo.
The papermaking process begins with steaming the kozo plants and peeling off the bark, which is then boiled until soft, while impurities are removed by hand in clear water.
The fibers are then beaten and mixed with glue and water, before being placed on a wooden screen.
This screen is then dipped repeatedly in water with the fibers and shaken to spread the liquid evenly to make a sheet of paper, a technique which requires years to master.
Because washi is hard to break, damaged, old documents can be reinforced by attaching a piece of washi or sandwiching them between two sheets of the paper, Chinzei explained.
For documents, transparency is key to be able to see the text, meaning the thinner the washi, the better.
Chinzei’s washi, a type called tengu-joshi paper also known as “the wings of a mayfly,” is 0.02 millimeters thick and weighs 1.6 grams per square meter.
This compared to a standard sheet of photocopy paper, which is about 0.09 millimeters thick and weighs 70 grams per square meter.
“It’s a mesh-like paper mainly made with fibers... It’s as thin as human skin,” Chinzei said.
Using both machines and hand-made techniques passed down for generations, the firm can create ultra-thin paper, which is also used by conservationists to restore and protect cultural objects.
One such conservationist, Takao Makino, carefully applies washi with a brush onto golden sticks representing the halo of a Buddhist statue estimated to be around 800 years old.
Makino said he used washi for the first time in 2007 to protect the surface of one of the two main statues at Tokyo’s historic Sensoji Temple.
“The surface was damaged and peeled off. So we covered all of it (with washi) to contain the damage,” the 68-year-old said.
“Washi naturally fits into intricately-shaped sculptures, but papers with chemical fibers or wrapping films don’t,” he said.
“The history proves washi is very durable... The material is pure, strong and lasting. It’s reliable.”
The production of the Japanese paper peaked in the Edo period between the 17th and late 19th centuries but declined as papermaking was mechanized.
Now, due to the westernization of Japan, the washi market is shrinking again, Chinzei said.
“We have no tatami rooms and almost no space to display a hanging scroll in the current lifestyle,” he said.
“Washi used for those things are now gone.”
According to the industry ministry, the total value of handmade washi dropped to 1.78 billion yen in 2016 from 4.15 billion yen in 1998, while that of washi for calligraphy and shoji sliding screens fell to 5.86 billion yen from 25.1 billion yen.
Chinzei didn’t plan on taking over his family trade and went to business school in Seattle to study finance.
“But I came back... because I felt responsible for passing the baton to the next generation,” he said, hoping to find ways to expand the market.
The volume of washi used for restoration is still small, but it’s been shipped to more than 40 countries and Chinzei is hopeful interest will grow.
He explained: “For restoring cultural assets and as a canvas for art... I think washi has the potential to be used more in the world of art.”