Dutch director Mijke de Jong (director of Frailer) indicates that one can make characters relatable even if they take actions we may never approve of.
Layla M. sympathetically played by Nora El Koussour, is upset by the discrimination she experiences as a Muslim living in the Netherlands. She is also further upset by her family’s apparent willingness to go along with it and attempt to fit in the mainstream. She longs for acceptance and loses herself in the teachings of Islam, and finds herself married to a Jihadist in due course. The brilliance of this film and El Koussour’s performance is that Layla’s M.’s indoctrination to being a wife of a Jihadist is logical, and even relatable.
Injustice begets resistance, and resistance sometimes begets violent reactions, especially for someone who may not have many channels afforded to her. Layla is not someone who takes abuse sitting down, but she certainly would have benefited from counselling or a supportive community that did not judge her every move.
This film readily beats out Nocturama in terms of setting up the rationale for getting involved with terrorism/Jihadism (in all fairness, Layla doesn’t know what she is in for until she is in the deep end). This film is also vastly more sympathetic, as well. We experience first-hand the racial slurs, the judgements, the loneliness, the desire for companionship, the annoyance at the overt sexism, the fear, and the desire to escape and start over.
I was thankful that as a change from other dramas of this type, Layla was not sexually assaulted. She loves the man she is marrying and he loves her in return. She does experience other abuse, however. We all make mistakes. Some just happen to be more deadly than others – and blame does not lie solely on Layla for the misguided adventures she goes on.
Saturday, Sept. 17, 9:45pm @ TIFF Bell Lightbox
Michael McNeely is a deaf-blind film critic and advocate for greater accessibility in our cinemas. Read more about his story here.