(Meryem Benm'Barek-Aloïsi)

Maha Alemi in a scene from Meryem Benm’Barek-Aloisi’s  Sofia  {Photo: Memento Films}

Maha Alemi in a scene from Meryem Benm’Barek-Aloisi’s Sofia {Photo: Memento Films}

The Moroccan setting of Meryem Benm'Barek-Aloïsi’s Sofia is one where giving birth out of wedlock is a punishable offense. The film’s opening text outlines the legislative code that stipulates the one-year imprisonment of any unmarried couple that breaks the law. And with that, we’re thrust into the quaint living quarters of a middle-class family in Casablanca. The youngest, Sofia (Maha Alemi), is observed having stomach pain, with her cousin Lena (Sarah Perles), a medical student, painfully aware of the situation and attempting to conceal it from the elders of the family. This prompts a trek through the streets of Casablanca to both give birth and find the child’s father. As you’d imagine, such a journey provides its fair share of unimaginable obstacles.  

Benm'Barek-Aloïsi’s filmmaking suggests series of stark contrasts that mirrors the film’s milieu with the corrosive and antiquated mode of thinking that dominates Moroccan law. Whereas Sofia’s home possesses a vibrant warmth, a cascade of gray hues emerge as the prevalent feature of the various hospitals that Lena and Sofia plea their case, careful not to alert authorities. The opening passage of the film ends up recalling many moments of Cristian Mungiu’s seminal Romanian New Wave film, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, yet it’s unfortunate that Benm'Barek-Aloïsi steers away from the tension of the first half of the film for a more obfuscated and frankly unconvincing narrative detour involving the father of Sofia’s child. Still, it’s a well-made, brief exercise that’s utterly gripping for its opening scenes and never less than interesting.