Paris-based Moroccan filmmaker Laila Marrakchi is developing a pair of daring female-driven projects, “Casa Girls,” a series about four twentysomething single women living in Casablanca, and a drama based on a real-life sex scandal set against an agricultural backdrop in Spain.
Marrakchi, who has so far directed “Rock the Casbah” and “Marock,” both of which were box office hits in Morocco and traveled well, as well as episodes of the hit spy thriller series “The Bureau,” just wrapped the shoot of two episodes of Damien Chazelle’s anticipated Netflix series “The Eddy,” and is getting ready to helm a couple of episodes of “The Opera,” an ambitious show unfolding at the Paris Opera that will start filming next spring.
In between those two shoots, the much sought-after director is developing the scripts of both “Casa Girls” and her next feature film, which will be inspired by a New York Times investigative article “Workers in Spain’s Strawberry Fields Speak Out on Abuse” by Aida Alami.
The film, currently being developed with Stéphanie Carreras and Philippe Pujo at Estrella Productions, will explore the true story of under-privileged Moroccan women who traveled to Spain to harvest strawberries and were sexually abused, leading them to rebel and file a class action.
“Casa Girls,” meanwhile, will be produced by Lauraine Heftler and Michael Gentile’s well-established banner The Film whose credits include Julie Delpy’s films. The drama-comedy series will follow Kenzo, a young woman who’s been living in Paris for 10 years and returns to her homeland in Casablanca to get over a bad breakup. But instead of finding the comfort and peace she wished for, Kenza discovers that her parents have gone broke. Forced to take a small job, she starts working as a photographer for a cheeky wedding planner who becomes her friend, along with two other twentysomething girls from different backgrounds.
“Although the girls all come from different horizons they go through similar struggles with sex, love, intimacy issues and difficulty to find their sense of selves and womanhood in a society that seems schizophrenic at times,” said Marrakchi, who is attending the Marrakech Film Festival and is part of the jury of the Atlas industry meetings. Marrakchi said she started developing the series project after making a documentary on the issue of sex in Morocco that led her to interview many young people.
“I’d like to make a series in the vein of ‘Girls,’ a show that will be transgressive, fearless and funny with strong female characters and all grounded in the iconic city of Casablanca, which will be showcased like New York is in ‘Girls,’” said Marrakchi, who is developing the script in collaboration with Stephanie Duvivier and Dorothee Lachaud, and has already penned the series bible and first episode.
On top of these two projects, Marrakech is also in the process of raising the financing for “My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece,” an English-language project based on Annabel Pitcher’s bestselling novel about a boy whose sister was killed in a terrorist attack in London and has been raised by his father who has become Islamophobic. Backup Films (“Donnybrook”) and Alexandre Aja (“The Hills Have Eyes”) are on board as producers.
Following her work on Eric Rochant’s “The Bureau,” Marrakchi said she was inspired by her collaboration with Chazelle on “The Eddy,” which gave her a chance to discover the world of jazz. The director said she was given a list of films to watch for references, including movies by John Cassavetes, Jean Rouch, Jean-Luc Godard, as well as documentaries on Chet Baker and Thelonious Monk, among others.
“Damien had the idea of shooting ‘The Eddy’ with a naturalistic aesthetic that felt reminiscent to the New Wave, with the camera over the shoulder, to echo the free spirit of jazz improvisation,” said Marrakchi, who also revealed that the first two episodes of the series were shot in Super 16.
Marrakchi, who was born and raised on Morocco and has been living in Paris for many years, said she felt connected to the story of “The Eddy” because it centers on the experiences of expats living in Paris who are adjusting to a culture that’s different from their own.