German director Caroline Link, who won the foreign-language film Oscar with “Nowhere in Africa,” is in Toronto with her latest film, “Exit Marrakech” (pictured). She feels at home at the festival, Link tells Variety.
“I have shown all my movies in Toronto, and I have the feeling that this is a place where they understand me, where they like and appreciate my work,” she says.
In his program notes, Toronto’s artistic director Cameron Bailey writes, “Like a fresher, contemporary Paul Bowles story, ‘Exit Marrakech’ offers a glimpse of what can happen when a Westerner is confronted with the radically unfamiliar.”
“What I’m really tired of are the cliched images we have of Morocco. It’s not always sweet, good smelling and lush. People are living in poverty. It’s dirty, it stinks. I wanted to make that visible. It has a kind of violence, brutality and danger to it,” she says.
“Exit Marrakech” centers on Ben, a 17-year-old German boy (played by Samuel Schneider) who visits his father (Ulrich Tukur) in Morocco. After the two fall out, the boy plunges himself into the street life of Morocco, but when he follows a beautiful young woman (Hafsia Herzi) to her Berber village, he finds he is out of his depth.
Link drew on her own experience 22 years ago when she and her husband, director Dominik Graf, travelled around Morocco, immersing themselves in the local culture. She returned to the country a few years ago with Peter Herrmann, who had produced “Nowhere in Africa.” Link persuaded him to back a project set in Morocco, but, at that stage, without a story, just the idea of a father-son road movie set in motion by a disagreement.
“When I start writing screenplays, I always think about scenes and moments first. It’s not a typical way of creating a story,” she says.
Herrmann says he had faith in the director. “Caroline is an excellent storyteller, and this is rare in Germany,” he says. “She is extremely good at directing actors and has an unbelievable sensibility for the emotional structure of a film.”
Link found the story of competition between father and son had a strong resonance in a male-dominated society like Morocco.
“In combination with this culture, I found it more interesting to have a competitive relationship between father and child. I didn’t want it to be the father-daughter thing, like in my other movies. I liked the idea of the generational conflict between an older man and a younger man,” she says.
Link’s films are not plot driven; she focuses more on exploring emotions and relationships.
“It’s a bit of an experiment for me: How far can I go with a movie where I don’t really tell a very strong story. It’s very much about feelings, moments, situations and atmosphere. Morocco is the third protagonist,” she says.