When Dutch-born Muslim girl Layla (18) feels less and less at home in the Neterlands, she – slowly but surely – becomes involved with a group of extremists and radicalizes. She encounters a world that nurtures her ideas initally, but finally confronts her with an impossible choice.
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.
Nora el Koussour: Laila
Ilias Addab: Abdel
Yasemin Cetinkaya: Oum Osama
Hassan Akkouch: Zine
Husam Chhadat: Sheikh Abdullah Al Sabin
Ayisha Siddiqi: Mereyem
Bilal Wahib: Younes
Bobbie Koek: Hanan
Mohammed Azaay: Father
Esma Abouzahra: Mother
Director: Mijke de Jong
Screenplay: Jan Eilander, Mijke de Jong
Director of Photography: Danny Elsen, SBC
Producer: Topkapi Films
The Imaginarium Films
Editor: Dorith Vinken, NCE
Composer: Can Erdogan
Sound Design: Mark Glynne
Production Design: Jorien Sont
Costumes: Jacqueline Steijlen
Make Up & Hair: Trudy Buren
Sound: Joost Roskam
Re-Recording Mix: Alek Goosse
First AD: Anne van Dongen
Line Producers: Jet Christiaanse
Casting: Rebecca van Unen
World Sales: Beta Cinema
Distributor Germany: Missing Films
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.
2016 Layla M.
2016 Stop Acting Now
2014 Frailer (Brozer) * selection Toronto International Film Festival 2010 Joy * selection Generation 14+
2008 Katia’s Sister (Het zusje van Katia) * selection Berlinale, Toronto, Locarno, nomination Golden Leopard
2007 Stages (Tussenstand) * Locarno Special Mention
2004 Bluebird * Crystal Bear Berlinale, Toronto Sprockets Young People’s jury award 1997 Brittle (Broos) * Golden Calf
1993 Love Hurts (Hartverscheurend) * selection Toronto, special Jury award Locarno
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.
Allan Hunter, Screen Daily:
"Mijke de Jong’s exploration of the issues surrounding radicalisation and identity is one of a number of current films on the theme (Heaven Can Wait etc) but is distinguished by its intelligent approach to complex matters, the polished visuals of cinematographer Danny Elsen and a knockout central performance from newcomer Nora el Koussour. That combination and the timeliness of the topic should make Layla M a regular fixture of the festival circuit and guarantee some theatrical interest."
Scott Tobias, Variety:
"There’s a contrived, programmatic quality to watching Layla, a righteous firebrand of Moroccan descent, follow her ideals to the edge of the cliff, but co-writer/director Mijke de Jong and her lead actor, Nora El Koussour, work hard to complicate her journey, both internally and externally. They arrive at a plausible case study in terror recruitment, linked in no small part to Western policies of discrimination and harassment. But they also create a fully realized character whose passion has no home in a world dominated by men."
Matt Fagerholm, Roger Ebert:
"The danger of any belief system claiming to be the One True Faith is the potential of its followers to become radicalized. One of the most bewildering mysteries of fanaticism is how it can cause otherwise independently minded people to become willfully oppressed. “Layla M.”, the powerful drama from Dutch director Mijke de Jong, guides us through every step of its titular heroine’s evolution from a headstrong rebel into a virtual prisoner. As portrayed by remarkable newcomer Nora El Koussour, Layla doesn’t at all fit the stereotypical profile of a future terrorist. She’s a Dutch-Moroccan teen fed up with Amsterdam’s discriminatory measures against Muslims, such as a burqa ban that she openly protests, much to the chagrin of her family and friends. When she chastises her older brother for shaving off his beard, he explains to her that his view of Islam isn’t a political one, and doesn’t require rigorous devotion to archaic customs. For Layla, cloaking herself in a burqa is an expression of her individuality rather than the extinguishment of it, and as the ties to her past become increasingly frayed, she finds herself drawn into a relationship with a young jihadist, Abdel (Ilias Addab).
Serving as a fitting companion piece to Hany Abu-Assad’s 2005 masterwork, “Paradise Now,” de Jong’s film makes each of its protagonist’s choices frighteningly comprehensible by involving us in her rightful indignation. It isn’t until she arrives in her new life with Abdel that the mood shifts, and she starts to be treated more and more like a submissive servant rather than a participant. “I’m not just here to cook fish, you know,” she tenderly informs Abdel, whose response is mere awkward silence. The film’s most riveting scenes occur in its last act, as Layla begins pushing back against the restrictions placed upon her by a culture that had initially promised acceptance. Though the central characters are Islamic, the themes of disillusionment and alienation resonate on a universal level. This is an indelible example of how cinema can unite us during times of extreme division by placing an achingly human face on people the 24-hour news cycle teaches us to fear."