The Netherlands, Jordan, Belgium, Germany 2017

Synopsis

Layla is an 18-year old girl, born and raised in Amsterdam. Layla is smart, witty and stubborn – and of Moroccan background. In the times of constant terrorist threat, she struggles with the increasing suspicion towards girls with headscarves and boys with beards that she witnesses every day. While her frustration grows, her faith intensifies. Eventually, she joins a group of Muslims who fight for their practise of Islam. Layla posts films online depicting the horrors in Syria and Gaza and makes political flyers. And she flirts with the charismatic Abdel.
When her peaceful brother and she are arrested by the police, Layla, feeling hurt and isolated in her anger, more and more in conflict with her parents, is left with only one option: to leave home. She chooses marriage, with Abdel. After their wedding, Layla and Abdel roam the country together, perform ‘missionary work’, and raise money for the good cause. But after they narrowly escape a raid by the Belgian police on a group of young jihadists, they have to flee, to the Middle East. Layla encounters a world that nurtures her ideas initially, but finally confronts her with an impossible choice.

Directors Statement

Layla is tough, irritating, lovable, allergic to injustice, certain of her own convictions, feminist and in search of a place where she can be herself. Due to fear and incapacity, she is a girl who frequently shows her dark side, but who eventually and with enormous passion, chooses a courageous life; one in which she speaks her mind should she deem it necessary. Even if this means contradicting the strict codes by which her Muslim brothers and sisters abide by. Her faith in Allah is unconditional, but in her own way. In my opinion, Layla is (and should be) a vulnerable heroine.

For a long time, I have wanted to make a film about a girl who radicalises and by doing so, places herself - partly – outside society. I recognise many patterns from my own youth in Layla‘s story: the passion and commitment to social injustice, the black-and-white simplistic way of thinking and the appeal of us - against the rest of the world. When I arrived in Amsterdam in the eighties, the squatter’s movement was about to conquer the city. Within no time, my life consisted of campaigns and demonstrations. The more radical the better. I was looking for structure, for a family, for my identity.

That was 30 years ago. Jan Eilander, who is largely responsible for the screenplay, and I wanted to make a film set in the NOW. In a multicultural, upside-down society where your opinions have to be newly devised on a daily basis. In the years that Jan and I have been working on this film, not much has changed in terms of the basic idea, but a lot has changed in the world around it. The conflict is very complex and good and bad is not so easy to identify. Just the same, there is a group of young people who do not feel at home in the country where they were born. We believe it is important in this era to shine our light on a young woman and a young man belonging to that group. We want to give insight why a girl like Layla, with her character and sense of justice, needs the safe limits of a radical group to develop. She can express her dissatisfaction, profess her faith and divide the world into good or bad. But she eventually breaks out again. Ultimately the bond of the group is squashed. Her ‘external aggressive’ perception of religion and political beliefs, gives way to a more tranquil internal perception. She dares to allow more colour in her monotone view of the world, whereby she becomes closer to herself.

Biography

For almost twenty years, the films by Mijke de Jong show great social involvement, from her first feature film Love Hurts (1992; Toronto International Film Festival – Special Jury Award Locarno) to Layla M. De Jong’s international breakthrough came with Bluebird for which she won a number of awards, e.g. the Crystal Bear at the 2005 Berlinale. Bluebird was followed by Stages (Special Mention Locarno) and Katia’s Sister (2008; official Berlinale, Toronto and Locarno selections). Award winning feature film Joy (2010) was shown around the world and got the Best Feature Film Award in The Netherlands. Feature film Frailer (2014) premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Last year she worked together with the theatre collective Wunderbaum on the film Stop Acting Now, which had its premiere during the 2016 edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Layla M. will be de Jong’s 9th feature film.

Filmography:

2016 LAYLA M.
2016 STOP ACTING NOW
2014 FRAILER (Brozer)
2008 KATIA’S SISTER (Het zusje van Katia)
2007 STAGES (Tussenstand)
2004 BLUEBIRD
1993 LOVE HURTS (Hartverscheurend)
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Cast & Crew

Directed by : Mijke de Jong

Written by : Jan Eilander, Mijke de Jong

Produced by : Frans Van Gestel, Arnold Heslenfeld, Laurette Schillings

Director of Photography : Danny Elsen

Editor : Dorith Vinken

Production Design : Jorien Sont

Costume Design : Jacqueline Steijlen

Hair & Make up Artist : Trudy Buren

Composer : Can Erdogan

Sound Design : Mark Glynne

Main Cast : Ilias Addab (Abdel), Nora El Koussour (Layla)

Nominations and Awards

  • EFA Feature Film Selection 2017