Thursday, June 13, 2024

“EVERYBODY LOVES TOUDA”

THE STORY – Touda only dreams of one thing: being a Sheikha, a traditional Moroccan performer. She belts out songs about resistance, love and emancipation, passed down from generation to generation. Every evening, she performs in bars under the gaze of men in her tiny village while hoping for a better future for her and her son. Disrespected and shamed, she sets her sights on leaving for the bright lights of Casablanca…

THE CASTNisrin Erradi, Joud Chamihy, Jalila Tlemsi, El Moustafa Boutankite & Lachen Razzougui

THE TEAM – Nabil Ayouch (Director/Writer) & Maryam Touzani (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 102 Minutes


Having talent can be a terrible thing. If you are really good at something and the world embraces you for it, you get to experience the pleasures of being recognized and rewarded. But if you’re really good at something and the world punishes you for it, you suffer twice. Many women with careers in the arts or any industry who have been impacted by #MeToo can relate. “Everybody Loves Touda,” a riveting Moroccan film, takes no pleasure in the punishment inflicted upon the talented singer Touda (Nisrin Erradi). Still, by demonstrating what Touda must go through to be good at her job, filmmaker Nabil Ayouch makes it beautifully clear how vital a hopeful spirit is in a cruel world.

Touda lives in a small Moroccan city with her deaf nine-year-old son, Yassine (Joud Chamily), with whom she is a loving mother. She is herself illiterate and therefore determined to provide Yassine an education, but the local schools can’t and won’t accommodate his disability. Even Touda’s unusually supportive parents, who live on a farm in the (jaw-droppingly beautiful) mountains, believe he should be put out to work. Research confirms Morocco’s only suitable specialist school is in Casablanca, which is enormous, unaffordable, and far away. But Touda thinks she can make the leap, as musically she can perform both pop hits and the classical folk style, Aïta, that only “Sheikhas specializes in. 

Erradi makes it clear through her cheerful and open body language onstage just how much Touda enjoys giving everybody a good time. But her income comes from the audience, who pay the singers by literally throwing money at them for a take that must be split between the club owner, the house band, and the singer herself; therefore, Touda is under constant pressure to earn more money for everybody by allowing the male audience members to eyeball, harras and even molest her. If she refuses, she could be chased down and sexually assaulted.

Director Nabil Ayouch, who co-wrote the script with his wife, Maryam Touzani, is wholly on Touda’s side, making sure even the most violent and upsetting sequences are filmed with respect for Touda and Erradi playing her (something Moroccan society itself doesn’t show). The harassment Touda must endure to be good at her job is relentless, pervasive, and occasionally brutal, made worse by the fact that she asserts herself and fights back. But it won’t be like this forever. When Touda moves to Casablanca, the big city will leap to recognize her talent, the specialist school will be thrilled to educate her clever and charming little boy, and they’ll be able to afford an apartment with its own private bathroom instead of a shared one down the hall. Right? We hope.

Erradi’s positive and hopeful performance is incredible and fully carries the film. No matter how often something terrible happens to Touda, she knows deep down that she’s a wonderful singer and that the next gig, the next manager, and the next man will be better than her current situation. Cinematographer Virginie Surdej usually keeps the camera close, but not too close, to Touda when she sings, giving a palpable feeling of happily dancing at a crowded party. At home, the camera doesn’t move much at all, giving Touda the privacy to rehearse, reflect, or hang out with Yassine. The blazing Moroccan sunshine lends even the grimmest sequences a crisp and cleansing tone, and Samuel Aichoun’s sound does a fine job of centering the music while never losing the ambient atmosphere. But, of course, the world is the way it is, and even the kind violinist in Casablanca (El Moustafa Boutankite) who takes Touda under his wing can’t make it a better one on his own. It all builds to a final sequence, filmed on location in a glorious single eighteen-minute shot, where Touda learns once and for all whether her dreams can come true. 

All Touda wants is to do the job she loves without harassment, but the patriarchal society shown here makes that almost impossible. By adding music to the feminist pill, Ayouch has highlighted some major faultlines in this society in a way that is relatable across the world. This makes “Everybody Loves Touda a double achievement because by premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, it has had the opportunity to spread its message far and wide. While we await some semblance of equality to affect other parts of the world where women are still treated with prejudice, the success of “Everybody Loves Touda” is a step in the right direction toward raising awareness and helping us to get there.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Nisrin Erradi’s remarkable performance embodies the power of positivity.

THE BAD - Trigger warnings for rape, sexualized violence, and pervasive harassment are utterly essential, though everything is filmed respectfully.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best International Feature

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Nisrin Erradi’s remarkable performance embodies the power of positivity.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Trigger warnings for rape, sexualized violence, and pervasive harassment are utterly essential, though everything is filmed respectfully.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-international-feature/">Best International Feature</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"EVERYBODY LOVES TOUDA"