[INTERVIEW] Kaouther Ben Hania: “Beauty and the Dogs”

“Beauty and the Dogs” (2017 / 100′ / Tunisia, France, Lebanon, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Qatar) is screening as part of the 2018 Beirut Cinema Screenings on March 22nd, 2018, 8PM at Metropolis Empire Sofil, in the presence of the main actress Mariam El Ferjani.


Whether documentaries or works of fiction, your films always maintain close ties with social reality.

Kaouther Ben Hania: I started with documentaries because, to me, fiction was something that was extremely difficult. Fiction is created from multiple “misleading elements”, and yet, out of a lie must come a certain authenticity. Filming what is real through a documentary allowed me to rethink this notion and develop the tools necessary to take on fiction. In this sense, Challat of Tunis is a transition piece, because I was approaching fiction with the tools and the stylistics of a documentary. When I first dealt with reality starting with Imams Go to School and in my subsequent films, I learned how to structure scenes the way you do in fiction, but with fragments of reality. So, when I was filming, I was thinking about the kind of editing that obviously doesn’t correspond to reality as it is because that was a reshuffling of reality made with the tools used in fiction.

For me, making documentaries was a true learning process, particularly in my work with the actors. In Challat of Tunis, I was dealing with amateur actors and I couldn’t figure out how to direct an actor in order to obtain something as authentic as what you get in a documentary. Documentary filmmaking not only taught me to direct actors, but also to construct characters in their ambiguities and complexities, far from all the clichés.


How does one go about directing actors in long shots, which can be seen as ‘fragments of reality‘, as you did for Beauty and the Dogs?

KBH: It’s a considerable formal constraint. But the film needs it because a long shot has the benefit of plunging us into real-time – into life.

Using a long shot allows us to create an element of tension and to immerse the audience in the sensation of real time, even if the film is made up of 9 fragments.

The challenge was to establish consistency between the acting and this notion of a fragment of reality. Everything was prepared in advance in a configuration very similar that of the theatre. Multiple rehearsals were necessary to coordinate the actors’ performances with the camera’s movement. For a long time, during the filming process, I asked myself that frightening question: were the rehearsals going to wear the actors out, making their performances more automatic and therefore less emotional? If so, I risked losing spontaneity. But the numerous rehearsals didn’t wear out the actors – on the contrary, it gave them more to work with. It also allowed me to explore a character’s different facets and the actors were better equipped during filming.

Beauty and the Dogs by Kaouther Ben Hania - 1 (2).jpg

Using a real-life event, the piece explores the codes of genre cinema, namely thrillers and horror films, through the nightmare experienced by its main character in the space of one night.

KBH: I really like genre cinema, particularly horror films, which I find truly fascinating.

This isn’t a horror film – in fact, it’s much closer to a nightmare; but that doesn’t prevent me from incorporating several nods to the kinds of film I love. From the moment I started working with the actors and writing the screenplay had those references in mind. I really enjoy tension in films: the idea was also to maintain a kind of tension that was realistic (administration can lead to exactly this kind of Kafkaesque nightmare) while still making references to the genre. For me, horror films are extremely realistic. Incidentally, Youssef’s character compares his life to a zombie movie. Those films can indeed evoke very real emotions from everyday life.


In Beauty and the Dogs, the reference to horror films brings to the forefront the question of the characters’ humanity in a social order where human dignity is no longer respected.

KBH: From Mariam’s perspective, the story is cruel, but at the same time – paradoxically – it is trivial from that of the hospitals and the police. For them, it’s just another day at work. They see victims like Mariam every night. The difference between these two attitudes, that of personal tragedy and the insensitivity of institutions, defines the tone of the film.

The various secondary characters in the film justify their horrible behavior with the numerous constraints of their functions, whether it’s how the administration works, the solidarity within the police force, or understaffing in hospitals. It’s a kind of operating logic in which anyone could potentially find him or herself – whether it’s little acts of cowardice or those that are more reprehensible. You can easily and unwittingly lose your humanity by multiplying comprises.

The tension in the film is built on a reverse countdown that ends not with an explosion – that of the main character – but rather with her construction.

If Mariam doesn’t lose her grip, it’s because the much stronger characters surrounding her don’t expect her reaction. From the beginning, I wanted to build the character of a young woman who was completely normal, with normal fears, who tells little white lies, and who can be a goody two-shoes. She ends up discovering herself because she is faced with exceptional situations. So she shows an instinct for survival that she didn’t know she had. At first, she’s lost, and I needed Youssef’s character to support her, even if she is led to doubt him. We never know if he really is interested in her or if his behavior is simply the expression of the militant that he embodies for himself as measured by others. When Youssef is no longer at her side, Mariam finds herself alone against the “dogs”, and she has to get through it on her own. From there, she topples an order that everyone knows and accepts.

Beauty and the Dogs by Kaouther Ben Hania

Does Mariam represent the youth that firmly believes in a constitutional state resulting from the new order that came after the end of Tunisia’s Ben Ali regime?

KBH: Actually, I didn’t want to give her a militant past. That’s why I presented her as a naïve character when she lies to the cop. Youssef is much more politicized – he’s the one who talks about the Revolution. When you’re confronted with injustice, you automatically become a militant as a means for survival. Mariam needs for the men who raped her to go to prison. If we talk about a process of revenge under the guise of management by the civil justice system, we are not in any way talking about militancy. But it starts to surface in the confrontation with a social system that completely denies the respect of a citizen’s basic rights. Mariam pursues a journey wherein all she wants is justice and reparation for what she’s been put through by requesting a hearing. She becomes militant the moment she realizes that this is impossible.

Opposite her, the “dogs” become violent, not because of what Mariam represents, but because she dares to file a complaint. The police will do everything they can to demean her by drawing from a collective concept of disdain for anything provincial. This manifestation of denigration and contempt for the other constitutes a psychological weapon in the context of a war with two opposing groups.


Mariam is also fighting against the ‘normalization of evil‘ when the people she encounters treat rape with contempt and indifference.

KBH: In this respect, the film is an acknowledgment of this “normalization of evil” – not just in Tunisia, but all over the world. In this context, I make a reference to the documentary entitled The Hunting Ground (Kirby Dick, 2015), which deals with rape cases in prestigious American universities (Columbia, Harvard, etc.) where the female victims are not granted justice by campus administrations. These universities are, in fact, companies in a hypercompetitive system and don’t want to have their reputations tarnished. Also, the administrations push rape victims to keep quiet – all the more so when the accused are well-loved champions on the football team, a big money business. Beauty and the Dogs is more a film about the diktat of institutions than one about rape. That’s why the rape is committed by police officers – in other words, those who embody the monopoly of symbolic violence in society. Modern societies are actually built on this idea where individuals are protected by civil servants.


One of the tactics used by the cop who tries to silence Mariam consists of playing up the notion of a society under construction that needs the police force and therefore can’t be tarnished.

KBH: It’s the kind of blackmail we’re all familiar with that consists of pitting security against liberty, as if having both together were impossible. In this context, in order to have a strong police force, you have to give it absolute power and look the other way when it commits crimes. This began in the United States following September 11 and we find it in France and elsewhere in the form of “emergency laws”. With this kind of blackmail, it’s better to shut your mouth with regard to police abuses if you want to avoid civil war and the threat of terrorism.


Though the film’s context is local, in the sense that it’s a post- 2011 portrait of Tunisia, it goes far beyond those borders. How did you go about creating a dialogue between local and global when developing the film?

KBH: You always need context to make a film. I know the Tunisian context well, and I find it fascinating because it’s abundant; it calls everything into question. All of my films were conceived with this possibility of being able to dialogue with any audience, no matter their country of origin. I also realize that, since there are very few images that come out of Tunisia, a complete commitment to the few images communicated to the outside world takes shape. To a director coming from a more productive film industry, you wouldn’t ask the same questions about the preconceived notions associated with a country.


This film is based on a real-life event: what liberties were taken with respect to the reality of the facts from the case?*

KBH: I took a lot of liberties. It’s a news story that really had an impact on me at the time and that got a lot of attention and a lot of demonstrations of support for the victim. I used the event that sparked it all, which was the rape. But the characters in the film in no way resemble the real people. None of the events that take place in the screenplay take place as they did in reality: hence, the rape victim runs into her tormentors on the same night, but not for the same reasons that I chose in the screenplay. I didn’t want to meet the real-life rape victim and author of the book, the rights to which the production team bought so that I could maintain my right to interpretation. The meeting did take place, however, and the reading of the script didn’t particularly please her, which I can easily understand: when you’ve gone through a traumatic experience, you can feel betrayed when you see a rendering of that experience that isn’t faithful. And yet, what I wanted, more than to faithfully adapt an actual news story, was to use fiction to talk about the courage of countless women who struggle to have their rights respected. Behind the courage she demonstrated in testifying in court and through her book, I also wanted to talk about all of the women’s voices that weren’t being heard.


Would it have been possible to make this film a few years ago?

KBH: Clearly, this film couldn’t have been made in Tunisia before 2011. Though it doesn’t paint a flattering portrait of the guardians of law and order in Tunisia, the Ministry of Culture supports the film. For me, this is a powerful symbol of support at a time when general pessimism reigns over Tunisia. It’s a sign that things in the country are changing. Like the film’s main character, nothing can ever again be like before. Most importantly, the film is saying to all those people still functioning as they did under the Ben Ali regime, that the social order can no longer be the same.


*COUPABLE D’AVOIR ÉTÉ VIOLÉE by Meriem Ben Mohamed with Ava Djamshidi.

Published by Michel Lafon


[INTERVIEW] Sofia Djama: “L’idée de rupture est la clé de voûte de mon film.”

“Les Bienheureux” (2017 / 102′ / France, Algérie, Belgique) sera projeté dans le cadre des “Beirut Cinema Screenings” (22-25 Mars 2018), le Vendredi 23 Mars à Metropolis Empire Sofil (Ashrafieh, Beirut) à 20h, en présence de la réalisatrice. 


Beirut Cinema Screenings: La période post-guerre civile ou encore le dilemme rester ou émigrer sont-ils des sujets très importants ?

Sofia Djama: A vrai dire Les Bienheureux n’est pas un film sur la guerre civile, mais plutôt sur la situation post-traumatique. Ce qui m’intéressait c’était de narrer cet état de sidération, comme si nous étions figés telle une personne qui perd connaissance face à un trauma que l’on ne nomme pas, provoquant ainsi une espèce d’amnésie, mais j’ai décidé d’avoir un contre-point en racontant la vie par des personnes en résistance, des jeunes qui s’inventent des espaces de liberté, donc des êtres qui sont en mouvement par la nature même de leur âge, et la vie c’est le mouvement. Si bien qu’en réalité la question du départ n’est pas pour moi l’enjeu fondamental, et peu importe si Amal partait ou pas à la fin. À quoi bon partir si on n’a pas envie de changer en soi ?  C’est l’idée de rupture qui est la clé de voûte du film. Quand je dis rupture, je ne parle pas vraiment de la rupture relationnelle du couple, mais la rupture avec une vision, avec l’angoisse de l’avenir, avec le passé, avec la nation, la société, avec l’idéologie, avec tout ce qui nous alourdit et nous empêche d’avancer, faire des choix en somme.

J’ai le sentiment que l’on peut être en mouvement sans pour autant quitter le pays. Pour ma part j’ai décidé de partir il y a 5 ans, parce que je tournais en rond, et ça ne me pose pas de problème, peut-être parce que j’ai désacralisé l’idéologie, peut-être parce que je considère que j’ai le droit de goûter au reste du monde comme l’expatrié occidental sans être dans la culpabilité de l’appartenance : c’est drôle quand un jeune arabe part, on lui confère le devoir de porter le poids d’un pays, d’une nation, de l’histoire dans ses bagages, il emmène déjà de la nostalgie avant même d’être parti, quand il s’agit d’un jeune européen  il part léger, curieux de l’aventure qui l’attend, on dit de lui qu’il va se nourrir.

C’est drôle depuis que je me suis “expatriée” en France je suis désormais plus souvent en Algérie. Paris m’a réconciliée avec Alger.

BCS: Vous faites un clin d’œil au film Nahla (1979, Farouq Beloufa) qui a été tourné en pleine guerre civile au Liban, pourquoi l’avoir choisi ?

SD: Je ne sais pas, c’est typiquement le film que j’ai emporté avec moi sans trop le saisir, je l’ai vu trop jeune la première fois puis je l’ai revu de nouveau plus tard, mais ce qui m’est resté en vérité c’est cette métaphore de la voix que Nahla perd pendant le concert, comme si c’était le Liban qui perdait à ce moment aussi sa voix au moment où une énième guerre vient déchirer le Liban. Dans Nahla, j’y voyais de la modernité, de la féminité, de la résistance, du féminisme, de l’universel, de l’urbanité, de la topographie.

Ce portrait de ces 3 femmes, chacune avec ses fêlures, chacune avec ses tragédies et pourtant tellement vivantes ! Farouq Beloufa, le réalisateur, a filmé la vie dans un pays qu’on ne cessait pas d’abîmer. Je crois que c’est le seul réalisateur algérien qui ait fait de son protagoniste Algérien (le journaliste interprété par Youcef Sayeh) un voyageur. C’est bon de savoir qu’on est capable de voyager, de regarder avec curiosité le reste du monde. Ce personnage m’a rassurée en fait sur le droit au mouvement des arabes. Puis, c’est un film de rupture, je n’ai pas cessé de penser à Nahla pendant que je préparais mon film, d’où cette séquence de Nahla quand elle perd sa voix c’est un peu une façon de relier Amal à Nahla dans leur brisure et puis le cocktail au moment où Maha se confronte à Michel à propos de la Palestine mais au fond à propos de Nahla …


BCS: C’est ta première visite au Liban, pourquoi cette relation avec cette ville que tu n’avais jamais visitée?

SD: Quand j’étais petite, j’ai été tristement bercée par la guerre au Liban, par Sabra et Chatila dont je ne comprenais pas les enjeux car trop jeune. Intuitivement, je n’aimais pas la manière dont l’école nous l’enseignait car je craignais qu’on écorche aussi l’histoire d’un pays.

Évidemment Nahla a contribué à cet attachement, ma mère aussi. Elle y est allée deux fois dans les années 60 avant sa mort, son souvenir heureux qu’elle répétait en boucle tant qu’elle pouvait parler, était lié à ses deux voyages libanais.

Mon père aussi m’avait parlé très vaguement d’un réseau libanais qui avait soutenu la guerre d’indépendance en Algérie.

En tout, très étrangement, je ne me sens pas liée au Liban parce que j’ai grandi en Algérie pendant la guerre civile.

BCS: Comment c’est de travailler avec des gens comme Sami Bouzjali, Faouzi Ben Saiidi surtout que ce dernier est réalisateur en même temps ?


SD: J’ai adoré travaillé avec mes comédiens, même si je dois admettre que la partie des jeunes me donnait peut-être davantage de plaisir, car la place à l’improvisation était bien plus importante.

Faouzi a été un acteur d’une grande générosité, il n’a jamais agi en tant que réalisateur, sauf une fois au moment le plus opportun : le second jour quand il voyait qu’il y avait des personnes de l’équipe qui ne croyaient pas en mon regard et donc à mes choix de mise en scène. Là, Faouzi m’a regardée, puis m’a simplement dit : “ne lâche rien, ton plan comme tu le vois toi va être superbe”. C’était important qu’il me le redise à ce moment-là car je commençais à douter et il m’a donné la force de résister. Faouzi est un monsieur pour qui j’ai une très grande amitié.

The blessed by Sofia Djama


Award+Winners+Photocall+74th+Venice+Film+Festival+LyJxGNjttLplBCS: Qu’apportent, à un réalisateur, des prix prestigieux comme celui du festival de Venise ou Dubaï ?

SD: En fait, les prix apportent simplement de la joie, et puis c’est aussi la possibilité de voyager, d’aller à la rencontre des autres. Les prix c’est une occasion de plus pour faire la fête, et puis un peu de respiration quand ils sont  dotés ! Venise c’était la première fois, donc c’était aussi beaucoup d’émotion, une émotion très irréelle. On a tous flotté, il me semble.

Beirut DC announces a Cinematic hub in March 2018: Beirut Cinema Screenings


Beirut Cinema Screenings is a new initiative that represents an extension of Beirut DC association’s events, more specifically of the Beirut Cinema Days Arab film festival. This new project will take part in a series of cinematic activities organized in collaboration with Lebanese, Arab and foreign cultural associations which will be announced soon. The biggest among these events is the Beirut Cinema Platform, an Arab platform for co-production organized by the Beirut DC Association and the Fondation Liban Cinema.

These four films, from four Arab productions of four different countries, directed by four women, deal with interesting contemporary themes. These films are characterized by their creativity and global widespread, whether in terms of co-production or in terms of participation in the most famous international film festival. We have chosen to present these films in parallel to the activities of Beirut Cinema Platform, due to their cinematic importance and the co-production between Arab and foreign producers, some of which have participated in the previous sessions of the Beirut Cinema Platform.


Beauty and the Dogs by Kaouther Ben Hania

Maryam Al Ferjani in Kaouther Ben Hania’s “Beauty and the dogs”, opening film of 2018 Beirut Cinema Screenings


The Tunisian film Beauty and the dogs by Kaouther Ben Hania will be opening this first edition. The film is a Tunisian, French, Lebanese, Swiss, Swedish, Norwegian and Qatari production and had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival as part of the section Un Certain Regard. It has also participated in the first edition of Beirut Cinema Platform in 2015.

The blessed by Sofia Djama

“The Blessed” by Sophia Djama


The second day will be dedicated to the award film The Blessed by Sophia Djama, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival, won three awards in the Orizzonti section (Horizons) with the Best Actress award going to Lyna Khoudri and received the prize for best director at the Dubai International Film Festival. The film is French, Algerian and Belgian production.



Lebanese documentary “Panoptic” by director Rana Eid

As for the third day, the Lebanese documentary Panoptic by Rana Eid will be screened. Panoptic premiered at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland and received the Enjaaz award for the Dubai Film Market in the frame of Beirut Cinema Platform.


Wajib 4

Closing film “Wajib” by Annemarie Jacir, Best Feature Film winner at 2017 Dubai International Film Festival


And finally, the Palestinian film Wajib by Annemarie Jacir which had its world premiere at the Locarno Film Festival, will be closing this edition. The film also won the Muhr prize for Best feature film at the Dubai International Film Festival and won the best actor award for Mohammed and Saleh Bakri. The film is a Palestinian, Lebanese, French and Colombian production.


These four films will be screened for the first time in Beirut as part of the Beirut Cinema Screenings which will take place between the 22nd and the 25th of March 2018 at the cinema Metropolis Empire Sofil – Ashrafieh. Two of the films Beauty and the dogs and Wajib will be released later on exclusively at the cinema Metropolis Empire Sofil.