Given its connection to Eid al-Adha, it probably would’ve been more timely to share Ayam in July instead of late September. That would mean waiting nearly a year to share this subtle story of three generations connecting, though. And while the specifics are tied to preparing for the traditional Eid ceremony, the sentiment behind it can be appreciated at any time.

Ayam was created by Sofia El Khyari over a six-month span as part of her program at London’s Royal College of Arts, but if the tight production schedule was a source of stress, it doesn’t come through in the finished project. Opening with an overhead shot of a grandmother’s hands inspecting a tea set, the film is as patient and unhurried as its subject, and as comfortable as the most pleasant family gathering.

Mostly made of hand-drawn and painted paper cutouts captured under camera (though a few sequences were drawn digitally), Ayam makes the most of its hand-made feel. El Khyari keeps her line and brushwork loose, dressing the characters in bright smears of primary colour that keeps them distinct but complimentary. Compositions are generally simple, finding ways to keep the three women close and simply let the conversation play out, but the camera is sometimes set free, to capture the energy of an affectionate embrace. It’s an unfussy approach, and it keeps the focus on the relationship between the daughter, mother, and grandmother, rather than on any specific character or storyline.

El Khyari’s follow-up film at the Royal College, 2018’s Le Corps Poreux, is a more complex film in many ways, mixing beautiful watercolour artwork with a live-action interlude and other experimental flourishes to create something unique and poetic—but the simplicity of Ayam is also worth commending. In focusing on a single conversation and emphasizing the warmth of emotion connecting its multi-generational cast, it shares a sense of contentment that’s difficult to capture on film.

Ayam (Days)

dir: Sofia El Khyari
syn: Three generations of Moroccan women exchange feelings and anecdotes while preparing the traditional ceremony of Eid Al Adha.

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