x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Moroccan director finds inspiration on home soil

Filmmaker Faouzi Bensaïdi, whose Death for Sale is screening at this week's Berlinale film festival, describes the tone of dissatisfaction permeating his film, echoing the Arab Spring.

Still from Faouzi Bensaidi new film titled Death For Sale. Photo Courtesy Berlin Film Festival
Still from Faouzi Bensaidi new film titled Death For Sale. Photo Courtesy Berlin Film Festival

It's no surprise that Death for Sale has been such a success at festivals. After premiering at the Toronto Film Festival and closing the Marrakech Film Festival, it will play in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival.

Set in Tétouan, a picturesque port city in northern Morocco, the third film from the 45-year-old director Faouzi Bensaïdi centres on the dissatisfaction felt by three young criminals towards society and the constraints they are forced to live under. The film deals with fundamentalism, abuse of power and the failure of society to provide opportunities for its citizens.

What's immediately striking about Bensaïdi's work is that he puts his characters in real present-day situations, unafraid of showing both the good and bad of their surroundings.

"I want to portray Morocco in the present time to tell the world that our country is also modern. For years, the only image we see of Morocco is the same traditional images of men and women."

His film's plot is set up as a thriller, with the criminals being hunted down by the police, yet this isn't simply a case of cops and robbers. Between the criminals exist a lot of differences, most pertinently over the role of radical Islam and religion in their lives.

"The relationship with spirituality is something that interests me a lot," says Bensaïdi. "I don't want to just tell what is good and bad, what is right and wrong. I want to talk about the madness, the impossibility of situations."

With all the conflicts and feelings of dissatisfaction portrayed in the film, it's impossible to watch it without referring to the Arab Spring.

"I did this film before the movement, but I hope the film could show something about it - how people could either be seduced by fundamentalists or become revolutionary and change the world."

Death for Sale received post-production grants from SANAD, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival fund. Bensaïdi says: "We were happy to be supported by them, as it gave us an opportunity to do better work. Having four big festivals in the Gulf makes a big difference to the region's filmmakers."

It was especially moving for Bensaïdi to shoot the film in Tétouan because that was where he grew up. "It was emotional, filled with nostalgia and memories," he says.

Now the artist spends much of his time in France. His first film A Thousand Months showed at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival and in between making films, he has also worked on theatre plays.

He says theatre is less frustrating than cinema. "I spend two to three years writing, searching for locations, actors and all these things to make a film. I lose something in cinema that I find in theatre - when I returned to theatre two years ago after a 10-year absence, I was so happy because I could rehearse with the actors," he says. "And because of the lack of financial burden it was easier to take risks."

Bensaïdi also acts in his own films. He says of his dual roles: "Yes, it's a little bit more work, but I consider it to be like a musician who, when they are playing, has to sense if the music is good or not. It gives me another string to the bow. So when I'm behind the camera I can feel for the actors, too. I don't understand why more filmmakers do not direct and act, like Charlie Chaplin."


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