CHENNAI: Maryam Touzani’s Cannes title, “Adam,” is a lovely story of compassion and companionship between two women, and it was also Morocco’s submission for the 2020 Academy Award for Best International Feature Film, but narrowly missed out on being shortlisted. This is the first occasion in the history of the country that a work by a woman has been chosen for the Oscars, and Touzani in her debut feature deftly explores the hurt, humiliation and dilemma faced by a woman who has a child outside of wedlock.
The subject is not terribly original. In the 2018 Moroccan Cannes entry, Meryem Benm’Barek-Aloisi’s “Sofia,” a young, unmarried woman gives birth to a baby but, pushed to the edge, she manipulates the crisis to her advantage.
However, the distressed woman in “Adam” is very different, and she finds help and understanding in another woman, a total stranger. In a sweetly poignant narrative, the performances by the two topline actresses, Lubna Azabal and Nisrin Erradi, are arrestingly subtle.
Adam takes place in one of Casablanca’s poorer neighborhoods, and a heavily pregnant Samia (Erradi) is unwed. She goes knocking on doors asking, even begging, for work and a bed. But nobody is willing to help a woman who may be in terrible agony, but is not on the right side of societal expectations. Luck smiles when Samia stands at the door of Abla (a surly Azabal), a single mother who is still getting over the trauma of her husband’s death. Abla will have nothing to do with Samia. But when she spends the night on the street, Abla is overcome with guilt and lets the pregnant woman in.
Impressively written by Touzani and Nabil Ayouch, the movie offers the two woman enough time to understand each other and get close. The tension soon melts and the climax is executed in such a way that audiences may discard any prejudices.
The film is impressively mounted and cinematographer Virginie Surdej artfully uses light to illuminate this low-key drama. Pilar Peredo’s sets in Casablanca’s Old Medina are simply elegant, and music by artists such as Warda Al-Jazairia enriches the narrative.