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"Zahira is the girl who says no: an Antigone for our times”

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Stephan Streker • Director

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- With A Wedding, Stephan Streker offers a powerful film that centres on the tragic fate of a young woman sacrificed at the altar of tradition

Stephan Streker • Director
Stephan Streker at the 2016 Magritte Awards (© Magritte du Cinéma)

After Michael Blanco (2004), his first release and a real piece of guerrilla filmmaking, shot quickly and earnestly in Los Angeles, in 2013 Stephan Streker unveiled Le Monde nous appartient [+see also:
trailer
interview: Stephan Streker
film profile
]
, a more traditional film despite its remarkably bold structure. For his third feature, A Wedding [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Stephan Streker
film profile
]
, Streker has returned to a more classical narrative style to bring us the tragic story of Zahira, a young Belgian-Pakistani woman caught between her craving for modernity and respect for the traditions of her culture.

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Cineuropa: Can you tell us a bit about the film?
Stephan Streker: A Wedding tells the story of Zahira, a 19-year-old Belgian-Pakistani woman who is very close to her entire family and experiences nothing but love until the day when she discovers she is to be forced into an arranged marriage, in accordance with Pakistani tradition. For me, it’s a genuine tragedy after the Greek model. Each character faces really formidable moral dilemmas, and, like in Greek tragedy, there are no villains in this film. Jean Renoir used to say that there are never any villains in cinema; characters always have their own reasons for what they do. Zahira is a real heroine for 2017, the Antigone of our times. She’s the girl who said no. 

Would you say that it’s as much a film about tradition as it is about the experience of youth?
It’s about the story of a Belgian-Pakistani family, and so it was important to remain faithful to all of the cultural elements that entails. It asks, what does it mean to be a young Belgian-Pakistani woman today? While the film may take the form of a Greek tragedy, I still wanted it to be vivid and full of energy, because really, it’s a film about what it’s like to be young. It also deals indirectly with a very profound question: Is there anything more powerful than love? We tend to believe that love is the strongest force there is, but there are certain circumstances in which we realise that there are other, greater forces. That’s very relevant in terms of what is happening in the world today.

Zahira shifts back and forth between two cultures, and her veil is the object that marks this transition...
Yes, that’s right. She is both Belgian and Pakistani, and she is able to adapt perfectly to both cultures but there’s no real mixing between the two. She feels completely at home in either, because she has grown up with both. The thing that most defines Zahira is the fact that she lives in two different worlds. Belonging to two cultures is always enriching; one never diminishes the other. 

Did you make a conscious choice to avoid making any kind of judgement in the film?
In cinema, everything depends on somebody’s point of view. This film was made from my perspective, but it’s up to the audience to reach their own judgements. I hope that I’ve succeeded in making a film that credits the audience with the intelligence and freedom to play their part, which is to come to a conclusion. What that conclusion is will ultimately say more about them than it does about the film.

How did you cast the central characters?
Right from the start, I told myself that the most important thing was to find Zahira, so that later we could build up the family around her. In the end, it happened the other way around. Lina El Arabi just lit up the screen. What I love about her is her poise, the way she holds her head up so high.  I told my producer that what we needed was an Elizabeth Taylor, who had a fantastic gift for tragedy. Sébastien Houbani had already had a few small roles. As soon as I saw him I knew he was the one; he can handle anything you throw at him. After The Wedding, he had a part in a boulevard comedy with Fanny Ardant and he’s absolutely hilarious in that. I think he has an enormous amount of potential.

The film begins and ends with a monologue from Zahira.
Yes. It was really important that the first and last thing we hear is Zahira’s voice, because she is the essence of the film; it’s her point of view. I am a firm believer in the importance of perspective: to be a director is to have a point of view. As soon as you know what that is, you’re ready to go. When the film has a pulse, an intelligence to drive it, that’s when we can start shooting. As soon as you start introducing things that are extraneous, the film no longer works. Here, I wanted every scene to begin with Zahira. I wrote little notes for myself; if Zahira wasn’t in a scene, then we had to start with Amir. If we can’t see either Zahira or Amir, then it wasn’t a good scene, and we couldn’t move forward with the narrative.

(Translated from French)

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