We all dream of a better life, whether it’s a better house, nicer clothes and shoes, not having to worry about bills or putting food on the table, or just wanting a plane to fly us to a tropical island; we all have aspirations, and Noha, Soukaina, Randa, and Hlima are no different.
One of the first feature films to tackle the exploitation and abuse of sex workers in Morocco, French-Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch’s award winning Much Loved (Zin Li Fik) follows the story of four prostitutes from Marrakesh, and their driver Saïd, as they spend their nights partying with rich businessmen, all dreaming of a better life.
But despite its dark, and at times harrowing, subject content, Much Loved is still joyful and life affirming, and that is all down to the stellar performances of its four leading ladies: Noha (Loubna Abidar), a mother figure to the younger workers but not to her own son, desperate to provide for her family and stop her little sister Sara from making the same mistakes that she has. Young sex worker Soukaina (Halima Karaouane), a romantic at heart whose need to work upsets her layabout boyfriend, especially when Soukaina seems to be falling for Saudi businessman Ahmed (Danny Boushebel), who has more than enough issues of his own. Newcomer Randa (Asmaa Lazrak) dreams of travelling across the water to join her father in Spain, but a lack of money and lack of talent as a prostitute throws a spanner in the works. And then there is Hlima (Sara Elmhamdi Elalaoui), or Ahlame, as the other three rename her after they pick her up at the hospital, a pregnant country bumpkin escaping her traditional and judgemental village before they discovered that she was pregnant, trying to make her way in the big city like everybody else, and by any means possible.
Outcasts, runaways, and dreamers, the girls and Saïd band together and become the family and support network they all need to survive in Marrakesh’s dangerous underworld, all the while dreaming of a wonderful and hassle-free existence where they are treated with love and respect.
Joined by a supporting cast of sleazy oil magnates, playboy Europeans, drag queens, corrupt local police, the everyday people of Marrakesh, and of course, their loyal and trusted driver Saïd (Abdellah Didane), the girls negotiate the neighbourhoods they come from, and the privileged lifestyle of those just passing through, as they try to make more of their own existence.
Banned in its native Morocco for its unflinching depiction of sex, homosexuality, adultery, child workers, and the country itself, Much Loved hits home with its look at the hypocritical treatment of sex workers in Moroccan cities, and indeed the sex trade in general. Juxtaposing the extravagant, glitzy world of foreign visitors with the dusty backstreets of everyday Moroccan reality, Much Loved takes a long, hard look at societies who demand services from women, and men, always profiting from it, all the while degrading its workers and refusing to treat them with respect.
Dark, gritty and heart breaking, as well as funny, moving and life affirming, Much Loved is nothing short of brilliant. Based on the accounts of over 200 Moroccan sex workers, Nabil Ayouch, along with his four leading ladies, looks his home country in the eye and confronts its damning and painful treatment of sex workers, and examines the companionship of those workers and the resolve needed to survive such a toxic environment.