It’s rare to leave the cinema wishing a 90-minute film was longer, but Meryem Benm’Barek’s Sofia shows enough promise to demand a more substantial story. She wastes no time getting into the action, going from a peaceful family dinner to a secretive childbirth in the first ten minutes.
Sofia is a blunt response to the archaic laws in Morocco which state that sex must only be between married couples. Therefore any child born to an unwed couple must be claimed by the father to escape a prison sentence for the parents.
Benm’Barek’s desire to tell a big story quickly means she doesn’t always dig deep enough to support her action. Sofia (Maha Alemi) has problems thrown at her, and isn’t given enough personality or backstory to make them truly resonate. In many ways she’s simply a symbol for all the women in the same position across Morocco, a choice that limits her individuality but makes her story feel more universal.
Alemi is supported by a great performance from Sarah Perles as her cousin Lena, a woman just a few years older, but who feels so much more mature as to be from another generation. Benm’Barek is brilliant at capturing the unspoken body language that communicates so much between them, when their society’s rules turn women talking about topics like pregnancy and sex outside marriage into a minefield.
In many ways Sofia is structured like an A to B thriller, giving it real momentum, but also mishandling certain plot twists. Arguably it’s a failing of Alemi’s performance that Sofia is such a passive character in this dynamic plot, but it’s indicative of the defensive, pragmatic stance women have to take in such situations. When society puts you in an impossible position, what else is there to do?
CAST: Lubna Azabal, Faouzi Bensaïdi, Nadia Benzakour
DIRECTOR: Meryem Benm’Barek
WRITER: Meryem Benm’Barek
SYNOPSIS: Sofia, 20, lives with her parents in Casablanca. Suffering from pregnancy denial, she finds herself breaking the law by giving birth to a baby out of wedlock. The hospital gives her 24 hours to provide them with the identification papers belonging to the father of the child before informing the authorities.[TRAILER TO FOLLOW]