« Why shouldn’t a Moroccan make a thriller? »

Interview by Olivier Barlet with Faouzi Bensaïdi about WWW - What a Wonderful World

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The love of films plays a large part in the film; the references are both ironic and indirect. What is your relationship to films?
It’s true that when looking at my biography drama occupies a large place, but for a very long time I have had an all-consuming passion for cinema. It is what pushed me to go into theater. I was a film buff in my hometown, without the slightest distance, stricken body and soul: it was a disease! I only worked in theater whilst waiting to make films! Many reviewers have indeed stressed the references to film techniques in my work on light or the way I stage my plays. When I made The Cliff, it didn’t feel like it was my first time. What I like is to confront the process of filmmaking head-on. WWW enabled me to do something close to what I first wanted. A Thousand Months may look completely classical in comparison but still, it aimed at criticizing an ultimately highly codified genre in North African films, a story built around a child, and to subvert it. Everybody knows thriller codes but not those of North African social films: it was still an unconventional approach. With WWW, I get away from taboo and dialogue thanks to filmmakers like Tati, Hitchcock, Brian de Palma, etc.
Indeed, your references in this film seem mainly drawn from Euro-American cinema.
It is simply a question of conversing with films’ history thinking that Tati’s films are as mine as a French director’s. If Brooks tackles the Maharabata it is considered ok for a British man to be interested in Indian culture. Why shouldn’t a Moroccan make a thriller? Egyptian films have done so a few times. I just think I don’t have a complex about it. The subject is topical and the young generations of videographers or writers are thankfully deconstructing a restrictive vision of identity
Brooks sets his story in India, you set yours in Casablanca in a Moroccan urban modernity. Though it is not related to any other films, the film marks a break of tone, a break of narrative close to the essay.
The first spark was very simple. There are six million Internet subscribers in Morocco, for 30 million inhabitants. Those who don’t have it at home go to « cafés » or internet clubs that are popping up everywhere. The explosion of cell phones and the widespread subversive appropriation of technology are impressive. The film takes a look at this society and where we are going.
From the omnipresent cell phone to the Internet to the mailmen’s strike, everything is about communication though it does not really work. The more you connect, the less you communicate. We find the same idea in Singaporean Eric Khoo’s « Be with me ».
It’s true. When the Moroccan commission read the screenplay, some of them did not see a film from the South in it, but the commission gave us a very big grant, pointing out that the film put the finger on Morocco’s present-day reality. Everybody knows that it’s what we cope with every day of the week. It’s conspicuous that in Casa we are shifting toward a huge individualism and toward a consumer society that is more and more closed in on itself. The film tries to capture how to deal with feelings as old as love within an interesting vet rampant globalization.
Your character is very aloof and love is shown in an anything but intimate way; is it part of a desire to be in the realm of the spectacular only?
I don’t know if I can answer that. My films require an active participation from the viewer, putting him/her at a distance, as an observer. He controls his/her emotions and remains brechtian instead.
The emotion lies more in poetic touches than in identification. Just like in « A Thousand Months » and « Le Mur », there is a fixed image that the characters cross, that is to say a large place dedicated to the off-screen and a playing on perspectives within the shot. It is a style that you especially appear to work on.
I like to create a space in which a body moves: it’s a choreography. In this film, everything is choreographed, even the buses and the cars! In Venice, I was asked whether I was influenced by music hall. It’s indeed a strong influence, even in my plays through quite spectacular mise en scenes and choirs in motion. Hand-held cameras with improvising actors aren’t the way I do things, which does not prevent me from enjoying it when the others do. I kind of like a frame-world where everything is organized, which does not exclude life.
The buildings’ verticality mirrors the lateral tracking shots in the suburbs completely treeless. It is the modern Man’s print in a rather harsh environment.
Yes, I like space to tell what I want to express. The location scouting is an extremely important moment. The sets I shoot in have, I hope, an aesthetic coherence. Films try to incorporate music and architecture. The way I frame is architectural and the way I make people move around is musical.
Your film constantly subverts everything. The neon sign becomes an intimate poster to express his love.
I like objects to circulate. In A thousand Months, the binoculars arrive with the Caid and then the bride’s younger sister picks them up before Mehdi takes them away. The sign is co-opted to express his love. It’s an old ad for Yoki lemonade, a drink that hasn’t existed anymore for twenty years. If it still works, it’s because he keeps it. This character therefore has something romantic and nostalgic about him. Everybody subverts everything, from the Internet to fashion clothes. It’s a revenge on technology and wealth.
A programmatic revenge?
Yes. It is like in Asia: you can find very expensive software for two Euros! The advertising billboards are going to obscure 60% of the town, with huge investment from the Gulf countries. We could have started the film with an insert: « Casablanca 2015 ».
The presentation says « a film against other films, even against mine. »
Indeed, it’s an insolent film, even for us who were making it. After a while, the film ends up leading us more than we lead it. It’s a rowdy film, it’s bad.
Is it hard to get the character’s misdemeanors, who even dresses as a woman, accepted?
I am waiting to see the Moroccan audience’s reaction. It was naturally very funny to play and direct the crew at the same time, with blond hair and lipstick on!
Does it echo a desire for ambivalence?
Yes. I thought it was interesting to turn a very minimalist character into something incongruous and bold while keeping his restrained style of acting. Likewise, the killer-prostitute couple, an old figure in cinema contains the same ambiguity.
The reference to September 11 is unequivocal and ironic.
The title already refers to the beautiful world that’s being prepared for us. They are not trivial references. The film deals with economic globalization but also about the globalization of emotion and terror. The aloof deadpan killer always performs a sort of ritual before his murders. Murder is trivialized. The mall, which is moreover named The Twin Center, gives me the opportunity to make a visual reference. Casablanca, it’s Morocco but also the world.
The reworking of Amarcord is tragic because the liner steams straight into the boat people.
Yes, I followed Amarcord almost shot by shot. The same sequence takes on a whole new meaning in the present context.
And the fascination is not the same anymore.
The world has become darker. It’s a film that makes you laugh a dark laugh. The world is cruel, I didn’t make that up!

Translated by Sutarni Riesenmey///Article N° : 6897

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