“Sofia”, powerful drama film highlighting social gaps in Morocco

Young filmmaker Meryem Benm’Barek tackles one of the biggest taboos in the conservative Moroccan society that is still dominated by prejudice.

TANGIER - Unwell Sofia (Maha Alemi) is making tea in the kitchen for her family which is hosting a businessman Ahmed with whom her father hopes to seal a business deal in Agadir that would alleviate his burden on his rich French brother-in-law.

Her cousin Lena (Sarah Perles), who followed her to the kitchen, notices that Sofia is not feeling well. As they are conversing, Sofia’s water broke after medical student Lena finds out she was pregnant.

Lena insists on taking her to the hospital to help her illegally and discreetly give birth to her child.

After reaching a public hospital in Casablanca, Sofia has to give birth but she is asked about her husband’s identity or risk being rejected from the hospital.

Lena manages to sneak her through thanks to her medical acquaintances. But Sofia is given 24 hours to provide the documents of the father’s child after giving birth.

Both girls embark on a frantic search to find the father in a poor neighbourhood of Derb Sultan district.

Sofia cannot remember exactly where Omar (Hamza Khafif) the father of her child lives and whom she met only once, complicating the search until she found his house. She forces her way in but gets kicked out of the house after not being able to find him.

Lena’s worried mother calls her several times to find out about Sofia’s health, but Lena repeatedly lies to her while she tries to sort out her cousin’s “unexpected” mess.

Tired Sofia sleeps in the car not far from Omar’s house but Sofia’s worried parents found out after heading to the hospital.

A shock and humiliation grip the whole family when Sofia enters the house of her aunt’s maid.

Sofia’s parents try to fix things for their daughter by forcing Omar to marry her or accuse him of rape in order to jail him after visiting his house.

Omar’s single mother sees an opportunity for her son to come out of hardship.

Omar, who is struggling to make his family’s ends meet after the death of his father, has no choice but to admit he had a consensual sex with Sofia and made her pregnant and agrees to marry her in front of the police inspector who has been bribed by Lena’s mother.

Angry Omar spits at Sofia’s face after they signed the marriage document although she tried to convince him that his future will be brighter with the family business.

Sofia’s family is forced to hide the child from the nosy neighbours ahead of the wedding.

The story knows a new twist. Sofia reveals to Lena that Omar is not the father only hours before the wedding ceremony.

Lena is outraged by her cousin’s behaviour and decides to tell the family about it. Sofia was raped by the future business partner of her family when they were away.

Sofia tells them that it is a happy ending since they are embarking on a business partnership with her rapist and she will marry Omar to cover it up.

The movie depicts the story of two different worlds.

Lena of a Moroccan mother and French father comes from a wealthy family which lives in the posh neighbourhood of Anfa and drives a fancy car. She has a French education and European upbringing where individual consequences remain a personal affair.

In contrast Sofia’s chubby look, preference for speaking Moroccan darija (dialect) and failing career as customer adviser in a call centre besides her wish to become a housewife reflect her modest life despite her middle-class parents’ expectations to do well.

Rising Portuguese-Moroccan star Sofia Perles excelled in her role, proving that dumping medical studies in the real life at the expense of pursuing a career in acting was worth the gamble.

Young writer-director Meryem Benm’Barek managed to tackle one of the biggest taboos in the conservative Moroccan society that is still dominated by prejudice and characterised by strict laws against illicit sexual relationships as mentioned in the beginning of the movie.

Benm’barek nailed her debut feature which won the screenplay prize at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section last year despite the limited financial resources.

Benm’barek’s heartbreaking, absorbing, poignant and mesmerising film won huge round of applause at the twentieth edition of the Tangier National Film Festival.

Saad Guerraoui is Deputy Editor-In-Chief of Middle East Online