Layla M.

The story couldn’t be more timely and urgent as European and other Western countries find themselves in the grip of weekly reports of young people being recruited by ISIS to perform acts of terror on unsuspecting innocent lives.

Layla M. follows a spirited, headstrong Moroccan/Dutch 18 year old, Layla, living with her family in Amsterdam where she was born, as she becomes radicalized by a local Islamic fundamentalist group.

A poignant and powerful wake-up call, Layla M. deals with the current problem of homegrown radicalization of Europe’s young and disenfranchised. This controversial film shows the struggle within a Muslim family living in the Netherlands as they deal with interpretations of their own Religious doctrines and the critical liberal society they live in.

In the wake of increasing backlash against Muslim communities sparked by terror attacks, Layla's faith grows stronger. She is warned by her family and friends from continuing on the extremist path, but she grows increasingly frustrated by what she sees as oppression of her religious beliefs by a racist western society and begins to use her new found faith as a form of protest.

Dutch director Mijke de Jong’s gripping new film immerses us in Layla’s reality as the film is shown from her perspective. Nora El Koussour gives a mesmerizing passionate performance as Layla and draws us into a world where she is coached by online radicals who convince her to persuade her parents and brother to join in protesting the injustices perpetrated on the Muslim community.

Layla’s family and friends grow increasingly worried and encourage her to focus on her studies and career to no avail. With exams looming, she is drawn further into dangerous activities; protesting and making jihadist videos which are drawing the attention of the authorities who are now keeping a close eye on her and her family. 

When she falls in love with Abdel, a quiet young man from the jihadi group, she secretly marries and follows him to the Middle East where they are free to practice a so called ‘truer’ form of Islam, only to discover that she is not prepared for the cruel realities of life in an extremist militant patriarchal society and its oppressive ideas about the role of women which goes against her ideals.

Like most teenagers, Layla is just looking for an authentic life she can believe in. We worry for her as she naively navigates her journey to find truth and battle injustice. We keep hoping that her parents or a teacher will guide her on the right path but the society in which she lives seems so aggressively hostile toward her decisions that her tragic fate seems inevitable.

Part of the 2016 TIFF Toronto International Film Festival, Layla M. is a thought-provoking must see for anyone looking for insight into the underlying causes of the current violence and terrorism spreading across European countries with large Muslim communities.


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