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Inspirations - Laila Marrakchi

From Morocco and back again

Scenes from Rock the Casbah (2012): Three sisters (Lubna Azabal, Morjana Alaoui and Nadine Labaki) mourn their father (Omar Sharif), comfort their mother (Hiam Abbass), and deal with each other in Laïla Marrakchi's second feature.
Photos: Hassen Brahiti.

Laila Marrakchi Photo: Alexis Armanet

Moroccan filmmaker Laïla Marrakchi takes to the road in the Sahara before taking a break at the pullman Marrakech Palmeraie resort & spa.
She sits down to discuss her life behind the camera and at the cultural crossroads.

Laïla Marrakchi was barely 30 years old when her first feature film, Marock, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Marock portrays young people coming of age in Casablanca, and it’s one of those films that captures a moment and a generation so effectively it feels at once completely familiar and completely fresh. Marock was an impressive debut but, as it happened, the young director barely had time to enjoy the accolades. Some conservative critics in her native country called her to task for the film’s take on Moroccan society.
The controversy faded, though, and the film went on to become a resounding critical and commercial success. By the time her second feature, Rock the Casbah, was released in 2013, there could be little doubt that Laïla Marrakchi had arrived as one of the most sensitive and engaging filmmakers in Morocco or anywhere else.

Extract of an interview by Randall Koral. The full interview is available on our Pullman Magazine in Pullman hotels and resorts or online on App Store or Google Play.

Laila Marrakchi

RK: How did you get the idea you wanted to be a film director?
LM: When I was small, my uncle was a film distributor, and every Sunday he projected 35mm films at his home. My first memories of the movies are of me sitting on the floor by my mother’s knees and next to my aunt. They would cover my eyes with their hands if there was a love scene. My nanny would come in with a tea tray in in the middle of the action and ask, “Do you want tea? With or without sugar?”, and we’d all say, “Shhhhh! Not now!” I saw Hair, Kramer vs. Kramer, American films that weren't necessarily for kids my age.
The one that marked me the most, though, was Gone With the Wind. When I was a bit older I got my movie culture from videos my cousins would record off French television. They would bring back classics by Mankiewicz or Capra. When I was 15 or 16 a new movie theatre opened in Casablanca. We went every Saturday and Sunday. It was a way of travelling. It allowed me to understand the world a little bit.
After I passed my Baccalaureate I decided I wanted to make movies, except that, well, cinema was not considered very serious. But I was lucky to be a girl. I had an older brother and he’s the one who had to do serious studies. There wasn’t all that much pressure for me to undertake serious study – at least not from my parents, or in my family. That gave me the freedom, in a way, to study and do what I wanted. First I wanted to be a photographer, and then I decided that I wanted to make movies.
At 17 or 18 years old I went to cinema school in Paris. When I arrived it was like: this is freedom. I started my career with short films in Morocco. I worked on Franco-Moroccan coproductions. I figured out that being Moroccan and from another culture could give me an advantage – it gave me something to say. For a long time, while I was in Morocco, I had told myself I wanted to be someone else, and finally I understood to what extent my situation, and where I was from, could generate some good stories.

RK: In Morocco some people perceive you as an outsider, maybe because you’ve lived in France, while in the rest of the world you’re regarded as a Moroccan filmmaker. Where do you think you belong?
LM: I feel I’m deeply Moroccan and anchored in my roots. I also feel very Parisian. For a long time I worried about this, thinking, ‘I’m a crossbreed, a bit of this, a bit of that, not too much of anything’. And then I said to myself: ‘Listen, I am what I am’. I don’t carry that burden anymore. What’s annoying is that some Westerners expect me to be an Arab filmmaker and to focus on what is miserable, to have the same approach as the media’s. But I don’t want to get into that. I’ve tried to show something else, from the inside, that’s all. For a long time I have tried to find my place. So where is my place? My place is in my bed! [laughs] My place is everywhere.

RK: Do you like travelling?
LM: I like not being at home. I like what’s impersonal about travelling. Someone I met recently said that hotels are the best of what a country has to offer. It’s always interesting to see a country’s fantasies about itself through its hotels. I pretty much agree with that. Travelling is about moments suspended in time, about not knowing too much. I don’t like the tourist places. I like the moments that are close to solitude, when you sometimes meet people, like in Lost in Translation. I ended up stranded in Skopje in Macedonia once, in winter. It was a bit difficult, but in the end it was pleasant.

This interview took place at the hotel Pullman Marrakech Palmeraie Resort & Spa.

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