Thursday, May 19, 2011

Leila Kilani... Moroccan Filmmaker at Cannes

The Moroccan filmmaker, Leila Kilani will realise a lifelong ambition when her debut feature, Sur La Planche, is screened at the Cannes film festival today.

Leila Kilani - Photo : Iñaki Pardo

Sur La Planche (On the Plank) is the only Arab entry to be shown in the festival's prestigious directors' fortnight category.

Leila Kilani, the film's director, said she was "more than excited. It's surreal and a totally new experience for me."

The film, which explores the lives women runaways, was awarded a post-production grant last year by Sanad, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival's development arm.

"The grant helped us in the post-production," Kilani said. "It was a material support, but Sanad also offered moral support, too.

"It's an exciting period for film in the Middle East. This is linked with a new consciousness in public institutions which recognises that cinema is a very powerful media and can build a new image of the Arab world."

Kilani has previously directed a number of documentaries set in Tangier. Kilani makes a striking and intriguing fiction feature debut with Sur La Planche, the moody and impressively off-kilter story of two young Casablancan women delving into a life of petty crime in Tangier’s old town.

Balancing plenty of dark close-ups - when the women are out at night - balanced with starkly bright scenes of them at work in a soulless shrimp factory, the film offers a pacy and often decidedly unnerving glimpse into life in Tangier, eschewing any predictable scenes of the historic town and focusing on the underbelly of the city.

Jittery, obsessive and edgy Badia (Issami) and her more mellow friend Imane (Bahmad) work daytime peeling shrimps in a Tangier factory, but at night turn tricks and make a little cash on the side by stealing items - ranging from clothes to electronic goods - from their ‘clients’.

At one ‘party’ they meet two other young women, Asma and Nawal (Akel and Betioui), who as well as turning tricks happen to work in the Free Zone of Tangier - the area of the city that is defined as European, and only accessible to those with an appropriate work permit. Badia dreams of working in the zone, seeing it as possible springboard (possibly the link to the film’s title) to a more material world.

The foursome see the chance to access men in upscale oceanfront houses and highscale bars, but it also brings them closer to danger from other opportunists and gangsters. Badia plans a scheme to steal boxes of iphones as moneymaking scheme that could help her finally make it to the Free Zone.

Soufia Issami is the jittery and complex core of the film, never sleeping but rushing between work and her nighttime encounters and obsessively scrubbing herself, in a bid to wash off both her work at the shrimp factory and her sexual encounters. The camera often tracks her in extreme close-up, her unsmiling face and tense demeanour offers fascinating clues to her steely determination and sense of self-containment.

In fact the women performers are universally excellent - offering up a glimpse into the life of contemporary young working women desperate to find a way out of the drudgery of their lives. Leila Kilani directs with a distinct sense of place and cleverly shoots the nighttime sequences with a sense of pace and slight close-up seediness, which contrasts elegantly with the wide angle shots (reminiscent of Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s food-production documentary Our Daily Bread) of scores of women in a brightly light room all dressed in white coats, hats and masks, shelling bucket loads of shrimp.

It is a cleverly made film, with a beautifully shot dramatic climax that fits perfectly with moodiness and edginess of the oddly bleak but fascinating story.

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