Nabil Ayouch in Cannes, a “dream” finally come true

The Moroccan filmmaker Nabil Ayouch realizes “a child’s dream” by being for the first time in official competition at the Cannes Film Festival, with “Haut et fort”, a plunge into the universe of a youth carried by hip-hop . “It’s as if I had been passing a bakery from a very young age with a beautiful chocolate eclair in the window to which I was not allowed and there I was finally able to have it”, jokes the director in his opulent office in Casablanca, interviewed by AFP before coming to the festival. At 52 years old, Nabil Ayouch became the second Moroccan director selected for the great world cinema meeting, after Abdelaziz Ramdani, with “Souls and Rhythms” in 1962. His film was screened Thursday evening in Cannes. “Haut et fort”, his seventh feature film, follows a group of teenagers in love with hip-hop culture. These young people have “so many things to tell but not the tools to do it”, blows the filmmaker, “happy” but “intimidated” to be in Cannes alongside the stars of the cinema. The action takes place in Sidi Moumen, a disadvantaged suburb of Casablanca, best known for having been the stronghold of young radicalized suicide bombers from the neighborhood who carried out attacks in Casablanca in 2003. The director has his bearings: there are already shot scenes of his resounding “Ali Zaoua prince of the street” (1999) and “The horses of God” (2012), inspired by the novel by Mahi Binebine on the radicalization of the 12 young people involved in these attacks which killed 33 people . Nabil Ayouch also founded in 2014 the cultural center “Les Etoiles à Sidi Moumen”. Most of the actors in his latest film were recruited from this effervescent place offering artistic training in a district long cut off from any cultural offer. The adventure also pushed him to launch at the end of 2020 “New District”, a label dedicated to hip-hop. And the artistic director, Anas Basbousi, a former rapper turned teacher at the cultural center, plays in “Haut et Fort”. In Morocco, the selection of “Haut et fort” was widely praised, contrasting with the incendiary reception reserved for “Much Loved”, after its screening at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, in 2015. The latter, which explores the merciless world of prostitution in Marrakech, was banned in Morocco at the time and the director officially accused of “serious contempt of moral values ​​and Moroccan women”. Death threats and smear campaigns on social networks followed: “The Much Loved episode is not completely forgotten, but the wounds are largely healed and my determination remains intact,” says the filmmaker. Nabil Ayouch unleashes passions in Morocco. His detractors accuse him of sullying the image of his country, of surfing the misery of others or of making films intended for a Western audience. “Those who say that I surf on the misery of others do not see my films. I have never filmed misery. My gaze has never been imbued with a gram of miserability”, he defends himself. “I want my films to travel but my natural audience is the Moroccan audience”, adds the one who had been revealed with his film “Mektoub” (destiny), presented at the Forum section of the Berlinale in 1999. More intimate, “Haut et strong “resonates with the childhood of the filmmaker who grew up in the city of Sarcelles, in the Parisian suburbs. “The Maison de la Jeunesse was my temple, I learned to look at the world there”, remembers the director, who wanted to duplicate the experience with the cultural center of Sidi Moumen. It was in this “free zone”, offering music and dance workshops that the idea for his film germinated. “I attended a few workshops, it was pretty amazing to see them dance and listen to their lyrics … I wanted the whole world to hear what they have to say!” To “show this incredible youth”, Nabil Ayouch, who also heads a large production company in Casablanca, changed his way of working: he went on for two years of filming and editing, with “a permanent rewrite”. Because if it is anchored in reality, the film is indeed a fiction. AA