Radicalized by her adopted country’s anti-Muslim measures, a Dutch-Moroccan teenager marries a devout jihadist and leaves Amsterdam to join an Islamist cell in the Middle East — only to discover that her new community has its own restrictions and prejudices.
Mijke de Jong
It starts with a soccer referee's flippant remark about "you people," a bit of casual racism that alienated 18-year-old Layla (Nora El Koussour) sees as symptomatic of a larger, dangerous trend. Layla lives in Amsterdam with her family, all of whom are proud of their Moroccan heritage, though none share Layla's fervour for Islam, which seems to become more radical by the week.
Layla complains that her family doesn't read the Quran together, and she resents the fact that she's the only one who seems concerned about the government's threat to ban burqas. By the time she's arrested for joining in a demonstration, Layla's resolved to meet what she's deemed to be her destiny. She drops out of school, runs away from home, and marries a devout jihadist. They leave the Netherlands, heading first to a training camp in the Ardennes and then to the Middle East. But Layla soon discovers that her gender bars her from any meaningful participation in the activities she gave up her former life for — while her young husband seems set to make the ultimate sacrifice.
The latest film from Dutch master Mijke de Jong — whose intensely moving Frailer was a highlight of the 2014 Festival — straddles the political and the personal with characteristic intelligence, compassion, and grace.
Layla M. is a powerful drama about a young woman who, marginalized even within her own family, embarks on a search for identity, community, and purpose. Among de Jong's many feats is the way she makes Layla's choices all too fathomable given her circumstances. This is not a film about someone longing for violence; rather, it's about someone desperate to truly belong somewhere.
This film has been selected for the next generation of film lovers by the TIFF Next Wave Committee.