Article written

  • on 30.05.2014
  • at 12:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Here Africa/5: Interview with Faouzi Bensaïdi 0

Faouzi Bensaïdi is a Moroccan film director, actor, screenwriter and artistHis film A Thousand Months was screened in Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2011, Death For Sale premiered at the Toronto film Festival. The film was selected as the Moroccan entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards. Bensaïdi is among the African artists of Here Africa exhibition.

In your two early short films, La Falaise (The Cliff) (1999) and Le Mur (The Wall) (2000), the visual narrative plays out in relation to two very static, obstructive spaces: a wall and a cliff. these spaces be- come inscribed by the characters — the cliff in La Falaise represents the possibility of death, which hangs over the boys until one falls over the edge, and in Le Mur, the wall seems to embody the frustration the characters experience in their lives. can you talk a bit more about the choice behind these two spaces as focal points for the films?

I like places and objects to inhabit space more prominently than as mere background props, when they only give basic information such as “here’s the place where the ac- tion happens”. I am more interested in the emotional contents projected by a place, its integration into the very plot line of the film. Spaces are characters: they are alive, they are loaded with memories and have a past. They react differently to time and light. They have a soul which I try to capture. I therefore write their story along with their relationship with the charac- ters. In “Le Mur”, this wall is definitely the main character, and what happens to it on meeting with people matters. It mate- rializes an oppressive and enclosed space, which blocks the horizon. At the same time, it collects the traces and memory of people. In “La Falaise”, this place is the frontier between two worlds, childhood and adulthood, the limit between the violent enclosed town and the beach open to all possibilities. At the end of the film, the danger from one place merges with that of the other, and the cliff remains there, like a silent witness, indifferent to the tragedy of the two children.

Each of your feature films is set in dif- ferent parts of morocco — A Thousand Months (Mille Mois) (2003) is set in a poor rural village in the atlas mountains, WWW: What a Wonderful World (2006) in cosmopolitan casablanca and Death for Sale (2011) in the northern city of tetouan. in fact, morocco features heavily in the cinematography of your films — can you talk about this relationship to morocco’s landscape?

I carry my stories around with me in Morocco because I look for the place which can best tell my own story. I also shoot places which I know very well and which have left an imprint on my retina. Once again, I do not mean to illustrate a replica or a scene in a realistic way. I wish to help the appropriate emotion to emerge. Just let me give one example: in “Mort à Vendre”, I had to shoot the scene on the beach, when the three old friends walk aimlessly under a low heavy sky, with the passage of time leading nowhere and slowly killing them. On the beach, Malik, the jilted lover, unexpectedly walks into the woman he loves. She is with other men and the whole melancholy of the scene emerges from the convergeance of the surrounding elements. And I can say that having chosen to shoot this scene on the beach in the town where I grew up and where I saw the sea for the very first time allowed the necessary melancholy resurface effortlessly.

One notable feature of your aesthetic is your use of sound. many of your films (La Falaise, Le Mur, for example) feature no music whatsoever; indeed, in La Falaise there is no dialogue either. this places an emphasis on the sounds which are used, and the way they are built up. For example, in the opening scene of Mille Mois, noises of the countryside join the slow murmur of the villagers as they try to spot the moon, which builds into a crescendo once the moon is spotted and they rejoice in the start of Ramadan. What first attracted you to this manipulation of sound and layers of sound?

Sound opens a wide scope of possibilities that even the presence of pictures in a film does not reach. The abstraction, musicality and depth of sound, plus the fact that it reaches our subconscious directly make it an unlimited creative medium. I like it when one can produce a “tangible” music with the most common sounds. I am not interested in capturing the sound of an approaching car and a slamming door. I like to explore the characters’ inner selves, the emotions prevailing in the scene by means of the soundtrack. At the end of the day, even the dialogue, which some consider extremely important, is only one single element among many.

Mille Mois, you first feature length film, is an in- teresting cross-over point between your earlier works, such as Le Mur, and later films like Mort à Vendre (Death for Sale) (2011), in that there is still a sparseness of dialogue and the same long, landscape shots from the early work, but there is also an increased emphasis on character development. do you think that short film as a genre necessitates a different approach to plot and narrative structure than does feature-length film?

I believe that shorts have paved the way to a wide range of possibilities I wish to explore. They provide narrative, experimentation, an attempt at telling a story through shot, image, sound, the presence or absence of plot. Even with short films, one has an idea that one shot is a full unit in itself and may sum up the whole film. It is there, among all the other shots, but can be the quintessence of the film by itself. In shorts, one already finds a concern for design, for the human being and the beauty of his weakness, for the major dramas which affect ordinary people. They are neither interested in living histori- cal moments nor in making them, but simply wish to live with dignity.

In WWW: What a Wonderful World (2006) and Death for Sale (2011) there are recurring similari- ties in the characters — prostitutes, police officers and criminals — yet there is also a focus on the humility and normality of your characters. What interests you in por- traying an element of the ‘underworld’ and giving it a human face?

Yes, it is correct to say that I am interested in the dark side of excessive, outrageous characters, in the abyss and torments of their souls, the humanity left in the most ghastly characters. No one is born evil. Evil is not a gene that one inherits at birth: it can find an explanation each time, even ex- planations that reason refuses to accept. When belonging to the world of criminals and people with a great destiny, when men are confronted with major feelings, major decisions, ma- jor challenges, great passions, it always means that tragedy is drawing near.

You have mentioned before that your films, both the shorts and the features, always include death. there is also often an element of darkness and foreboding that has led Death for Sale (2011) to be regularly described as ‘neo-noir’. is this recurring ‘darkness’ symptomatic of your feelings for the situation of moroccan youth today or does it come from another inspiration?

I am interested in the depths of things and these depths are often very dark. My films have always given some insight into the country in which they were shot and the world in which we are currently living. I never pass any judgment on my char- acters. I believe each of us is capable of good as well as bad. At every moment in his life, he who takes good or bad action has his own deeply founded reasons. No one is innocent, yet no one is a monster either. My characters have a very dark, pessimistic side but they are energetic too. Maybe their en- ergy is that of losers, when they know that they have nothing to gain and death is probably the only outcome. It is a strange feeling when one may feel absolutely free, free of oneself, of everything, and find a lust for life in one’s own death. Among other things, the film talks about this youth deprived of pros- pects, these anti-heros who nourish dreams and desires far too big for them, which end up crushing them. It’s a modern tragedy about friendship and betrayal.

By Aimee Dawson & Jumanah Younis for Here Africa catalogue.

The publication of this interview is part of a partnership between Afronline and Art for the World, an NGO associated with the UNDPI (United Nations Department of Public Information). Its mission is to create, through the universal language of art a meaningful and enduring dialogue among diverse peoples, cultures, and world views in order to encourage tolerance and solidarity and to foster education as a human right.

From 6 May to 8 July, Art for The World assembles for the first time in Switzerland a unique collection of contemporary African art and performances including approximately 60 works of more than 26 interesting artists from the African continent. In partnership with the Swiss NGO, will publish opinions and interviews of the personalities involved in the exhibition.

More information on Here Africa

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