CANNES: Morocco’s La Prod, France’s Iliade

Gaya Jiji’s feature debut a groundbreaking Syria-set exploration of female sexuality

CANNES – Lamia Chraibi’s La Prod, one of Morocco’s most go-ahead production companies, has teamed with Paris-based Iliade & Films, headed by Tatiana Bouchain and Oury Mylstein, to produce Gaya Jiji’s “My Favorite Fabric,” a pioneering Syria-set depiction of female sexuality.

Given that such a subject is taboo in Syria, “Fabric” reps another envelope-pushing movie for La Prod whose movies have already pushed back the boundaries of Arab cinema in Morocco.

A Paris-based exile after recent civil conflict in Syria, Jiji’s debut feature, ,the Demascus-set “Fabric” turns on Nahla, a young single Christian woman who is devasted when Samir, a rich U.S.-based Syrian looking for a wife, visits the family but decides to marry Nahla’s beautiful sister Myriam instead. Nahla takes refuge in a mysterious house, a place where people go to satisfy their fantasies.

While many projects at this year’s Cannes’ Cinemas du Monde section proved critiques of arcane but enduring traditions, “Fabric” shows Nahla to be a victim of both Arab world customs and global concepts of female beauty.

“Nahla’s beauty does not respect today’s norms: She is like the Venus of Willendorf, concealing her fears and desires,” Jiji has said.

“A woman in Syria, whether Christian or Muslim, will have problems with taboos, her relationship with body, her sexuality, which has more to do with social than religious questions,” she added.

Nahla finally attempts to achieve a freedom as an individual. “That is a kind of emancipation,” said Chraibi.

Following Nahla’s point of view, even to the point of voyeurism, “Fabric “will mix the real and unreal, in the style of Luis Bunuel, per Jiji.

“We hope ‘My Favorite Fabric’ will be a kind of Syrian ‘Belle du jour.’ We just have to find a less beautiful Catherine Denueve,” said Chraibi.

“Syrian films haven’t really focused on female sexuality, it has at best been left in the background,” said Gigi.

The winner of a €10,000 ($13,650) screenplay development grant from France’s 2013 Amiens Festival, “Fabric” was also selected for the Morocco-based Mediatalent script

development workshop, focusing on young Mediterranean-Arab first feature filmmakers.

Picking up on the themes of Gaya Jiji’s less-than-two-minutes-long “Morning, Noon, Evening …and Morning,” in which a woman who divorces from her husband, asserts her right to custody of her son and her own sex life, “Fabric” is at third-draft screenplay, with Jiji initiating location scouting and casting.

Jiji met Bouchain when both worked at Les Films d’Ici.

Given civil war in Syria, financing for “My Favorite Fabric” will have to come from outside the country, from Arab countries, France and world cinema support systems such as the Sorfund-Norwegian South Film Fund, or the Berlin Festival’s World Cinema Fund, said Chraibi.

Morocco or the Lebanon could stand in for Damascus, she added. Cast will be in principle Syrian, per Jiji, given the high-level of young graduates from Syrian acting schools.

Set up by Chraibi in 2007, La Prod is a film/TV production house specializing in militant fiction production.

However oblique, Chraibi’s films have constantly pushed the envelope with depiction of such taboos as the repression of women (Hicham Lari’s 2011 “The End” and Narjis Nejjar’s “The Rif Lover,” a Carmen makeover, both from 2011), political apathy (Lasri’s 2013 “We Are the Dogs”) and the 2010 AIDs-themed three-part portmanteau pic “Angels’ Terminal,” helmed by Nejjar, Lasri and Mohamed Mouftakir.

“In Morocco, what’s dangerous is self-censorship. It’s insidious. I refuse to practice it,” said Chraibi.

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