Cannes review: Euphoric Everybody Loves Touda marks Nabil Ayouch's triumphant return

Moroccan director known for Casablanca Beats is back with a musically rich story about female empowerment

Nisrin Erradi stands out with a terrific lead performance. Photo: Nabil Ayouch
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Once again, music is at the heart of Nabil Ayouch’s latest movie. The French-Moroccan director’s 2021 feature Casablanca Beats, which had its premiere at Cannes, took audiences into a working-class neighbourhood in the Moroccan city as youngsters found self-expression through hip-hop.

Now he’s back with Everybody Loves Touda, a story of female empowerment that touches on traditional Moroccan music. Unveiled in the Cannes Premiere strand, this simple but touching drama is powered by Nisrin Erradi's terrific lead performance.

It begins in the provincial town of Sidi Bennour. Erradi plays Touda, a 35-year-old mother single-handedly raising her son Yassine (Joud Chamihy), who cannot hear or speak. Touda is tough and no-nonsense, even telling her boy how to deal with school bullies, by grabbing their testicles and squeezing them (it’s advice she’ll later put to good use when an over-friendly patron accosts her in a dingy bar that she frequents). Fiercely independent, her indifference to the married cop she’s having a casual fling with shows she has more on her mind than satisfying male egos.

Indeed, men are forever in her peripheral vision, causing pain and distress. In the very first scene, she's fleeing through the woods, attacked and abused. With this moment alone, Ayouch reveals that Touda’s journey won't be easy.

“Heal me from this pain, Lord,” she sings, at one point, words she takes greatly to heart. Her ambitions rest with music. A sheikha, she specialises in singing aita – the traditional folk music style that originates from rural Morocco.

Despite her vocal prowess, in the grim venues she performs in she’s treated like a second-class citizen. Desperate for her art to be recognised, Touda also knows that she must find a better future for her son. The callous teacher at his school suggests that, with his disability, he’d be better off leaving and learning a trade. “Without us, he’d be on the streets,” she says. But Touda knows better. “My son is smart,” she says. “He’s not like the other kids.”

So begins her search for a school that will accept her son, as she also attempts to further her career and find the funds to support him. After a sojourn to her parents’ rural dwelling, it’s a quest that takes her to Casablanca. There are touching scenes, like the game of hide and seek she plays with her boy, and touching friendships, too, including the old musician who tells her that “a sheikha masters the beat”. Others want her to sing upbeat pop, but Touda’s soul is defined by the mournful laments that make up aita music.

Co-written by Ayouch and his real-life partner Maryam Touzani (The Blue Caftan), Everybody Loves Touda is a euphoric watch, driven by Erradi, who handles the emotional heft of the film as competently as she manages the musical numbers. Ayouch crafts a feminist-leaning film where women have to fight to be heard; the frequent use of sign language, as Touda speaks with her son in gestures, also shows that the disenfranchised must find their own voice.

Everybody Loves Touda

Director: Nabil Ayouch 

Starring: Nisrin Erradi, Joud Chamihy, Jalila Talemsi

Rating: 4/5

With the film showing a fine contrast between urban and rural Morocco, Ayouch conveys a world where little is given away for free and dreams take guts and graft to realise.

But for all its hard knocks, Everybody Loves Touda has an upbeat curve to it. Without heading into spoiler territory, the final shot – as the camera tracks Touda into a lift – is pure perfection. A quietly triumphant moment, it allows Erradi to show what a soulful and skilful performer she is.

Updated: May 19, 2024, 9:04 AM
Everybody Loves Touda

Director: Nabil Ayouch 

Starring: Nisrin Erradi, Joud Chamihy, Jalila Talemsi

Rating: 4/5