Adam (PG, 101 minutes)
I don't think I've seen a Moroccan film before, but Adam - seems as good a place as any to start.
The subtitled drama is slow-paced and subdued but with its excellent performances and gradual revelations of character it's quietly rewarding if you're patient and willing to go along with its understated style.
Adam is the feature debut of writer-director Maryam Touzani. It begins with a young woman, Samia (played by Lubna Azabel) walking in the streets of Casablanca knocking on doors.
She is a hairdresser looking for a job - she's not fussy, any job - and a place to stay but has no luck. Part of this might be attributed to economics, since it doesn't look like an affluent neighbourhood, but part of it comes when the camera moves back from closeup shots and we see she is heavily pregnant.
Being single, alone and pregnant wouldn't be easy anywhere but in a patriarchal society such as this the difficulties are only increased.
Samia eventually gives up in despair and sits down to rest. Abla (Nisrin Erradi), one of the people who turned her down, sees her in the street and grudgingly invites her in to spend the night on the couch - just the one night.
Exactly what motivated Abla - guilt? pity? compassion? something else? a combination? - is open to interpretation. Touzani makes a lot of effective use of closeups and silence and long takes - occasionally these drag a little but more often they're an effective means by which where we can study the characters' faces and infer their feelings. Both actors are excellent at conveying a range of subtle feelings both alone and when interacting with each other.
The dour, self-protective Abla lives with her young daughter Warda (the appealingly natural Douae Belkhaouda) who is happier to welcome the unexpected guest than her mother.
Samia, who retains a youthful sense of playfulness and humour despite her dire situation, is probably a welcome change from the stone-faced Abla, who is still mourning her husband's death.
Abla runs a bakery from her house to support herself and Warda and Samia demonstrates her own talents at food preparation as thanks.
Touzani doesn't use flashy camerawork or editing or even a background score to tell the story: there is music, but it is played on a tape recorder as part of the story in a difficult emotional scene that is brought off successfully
She ends up staying to help make good for sale, though Abla doesn't seem totally sold on the idea and things remain brittle for some time. Watching how Abla's relationship with Samia gradually changes from sufferance to frustration to an almost sisterly bond is affecting. There's a sense of realism to their interactions that gives some moments real emotional impact.
As Samia's pregnancy goes on longer, she will have to decide what to do with the baby and her discussions about this with Abla aren't totally predictable.
Touzani doesn't use flashy camerawork or editing or even a background score to tell the story: there is music, but it is played on a tape recorder as part of the story in a difficult emotional scene that is brought off successfully.
The recurring character of Abla's suitor Slimane (Aziz Hattab) is a little jarring: he seems intended to be comic relief but his character seems out of place and doesn't really develop.
I found the ending a bit abrupt and frustrating but mainly because I had come to care about the characters and their situation. Recommended.