ALA EDDINE SLIM : “In Tunisia, the army remains this hidden monster” (INTERVIEW)

Last Updated: February 23, 2020By Tags:

Born in Soussa, Tunisia thirty-seven years ago, a consumer mainly of ninja and Jean-Claude Van Damme VHS movies as a teenager Ala Eddine Slim came into cinema upon discovering, not without thrills, “The Sunchaser” [1996] by Michael Cimino on television, “on a Thursday evening after Special Reporter.”

For the last ten years he has run, along with a few close friends, a kind of collective derived from his production company Exit Productions, which has allowed him “to learn to do by doing” and “to tinker, accompany, more than to produce, in the sense that most producers are managers, and are more creative in bringing something to market rather than creating.” “The main thing for me is to have the freedom to change and adapt inside of every production.” A few years ago, he watched the Cimino film all over again. “It didn’t have the same effect on me, but I didn’t care.”

“I work on my fantasies, in total freedom, so much so that all sorts of things get thrown in the mix that are outside of any writing logic, at least the kind that drives most of the films on offer today. I wanted to work within a space that was rich with possibilities, and to follow all of them, whether they led me to contemporary events or to mythological motifs. This film thus comes from islets of ideas and desires that I attempt to collect.”

Still from “Sortilège” (Tlamess)

“Besides, I smoke a lot of joints when I write and when I shoot… some things connect this film to my previous [and first] feature film, “The Last of Us” (2016). In fact, I also went back to the same places. I love the idea that any story can be seen from multiple viewpoints. There is also this figure of the soldier, which came from one of my first short films. At the end, the character leaves the city in a bus that also has a clown, a police officer and a soldier on it, that is to say, the three pillars of Tunisia: the clown, who is president, the police force (the hand of the President) and the soldier, which is the body that carries it all. I wanted to return to the latter to discuss the place of the soldier in society. I have criss-crossed the country by car and I would often pick up soldiers out hitchhiking, and would have conversations with them.”

“In the Tunisian imagination, the army has a revered place as protective figure, it is a figure that remains close to the people because it does not get mixed up in the politicians’ shenanigans. But it seemed to me, also, that soldiers are the first ones to be sacrificed on the altar because they’re the ones who have to face terrorism. At the same time, they find it difficult to return home. ”

“In Tunisia, there are two very sensitive subjects. Not taboo ones, but risky ones, that are likely to provoke very violent reactions: the army and religion. It’s not like Algeria or Egypt where the army is in charge. In Tunisia, after Independence, the first presidents made the country more of a police than a military state, and under Ben Ali the army was weakened, which was to the advantage of the police. But it remains this hidden monster that can swoop in from afar and pull the whole country down. I have some reservations about, for example, the famous war against terrorism. I won’t deny that it poses a threat, but I think that it is inflated and disproportionate, just so that in its name human rights can be violated: we kill people, we add them to watch lists, some die suddenly during questioning … it’s like the disproportionate reaction of the police against the demonstrators during the yellow vest protests in France.”

“But the film, like its protagonist, starts from this to later move away from it, push everything away from the military mission and lead the other character into total desertion. And the film, which confronts religious elements in the second part (Adam, Eve, the snake …), is not an attack against these two monsters that are the army and religion. It is a reading, a vision.”

“Me? I am neither religious nor mystical, and I did not especially think of that consciously, even if I was aware of the range of the symbols: for me, it was very natural presences in territories such as those crossed by the characters in the second part of the film. A territory which we can say is supernatural, but for me this forest is a natural place, it complements the backgrounds of the first part, a place which brings its own laws of functioning of relationships and existence.”

Still from “The last of us” (2016)

“With every new film I try to find a non-verbal means of communication. I had written dialogues but I knew they would not be spoken by the actors. Right before shooting I had had this idea of shot-reverse shot exchanges with the eyes. As filmmaker, I try to blur the vision and I said to myself: why not go to the physical source of the gaze? Since information had to be conveyed all the same, I tried to write directly upon the image. Until now I preferred not to work with dialogues. I had, by chance, some difficulties on my first short film and, since then, I said to myself: why not try to go on without these?”Besides, I’m not someone who talks a lot, I’m not into that. I try in each film to experiment with methods, processes, cinema, that’s it, DIY, research, like in a lab. And that suits the trajectory of my characters, who are fleeing from codes, a society which speaks to them, full of unnecessary noise. They go elsewhere and meet by looking, the first foundation of any contact between two people. It joins the movement of the film which is that of a return to the primary elements, to the primitive. We are going back to the beginning of everything, but it is not about making the same trip. It’s not at all nostalgic. It’s more like starting over and attempting to go in a whole new direction” (translation: A.N.).

Ala Eddine Slim’s filmography:

“Sortilège” (2019)
“The last of us” (2016)
“Babylon” (documentary; 2012)
The Stadium (short film; 2010)

Julien Gester (@juliengester) is the Culture Editor of the French daily Libération. This story first appeared in Libération.  Reprinted with permission (find the original article here https://next.liberation.fr/cinema/2020/02/18/en-tunisie-l-armee-reste-ce-monstre-cache_1778819)

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