Hisham Zaman • Director
“It’s difficult to tell sugar and salt apart when they are mixed”
- A letter to the King by Hisham Zaman follows a group of characters who left their native country for Norway, where they are lodged in a shelter
A letter to the King [+see also:
film profile] is an ensemble film by Hisham Zaman, a Norwegian director of Kurdish origin who, in the classic setting of unity of location (Oslo), time (one day) and action (the very precise motivation animating each of the main protagonists), offers us a story in which love, the search for a job, and revenge, amongst others, are all at play. The common denominator of these characters: they have left their home country for Norway, where they are hosted in a shelter. On day, they are offered to spend a day in the Norwegian capital. Since he cannot make himself heard by the authorities, Mirza, one of them, will hand to the king of Norway the letter he wrote for him, which is what inspired the title of this small budget film.
Cineuropa: Fiction or documentary?
Hisham Zaman: It is a fiction that is inspired by reality and authentic elements. I wrote the screenplay with Mehmet Aktaş, a Kurd from Turkey who lives in Berlin. I furthermore chose amateur actors from whom I borrowed a lot, such as phrasing and clothing, to emphasize the truthfulness. I had worked with most of them before. With my cinematographer, Marius Gulbrandsen, who was already in charge of images for my films Vinterland and Bawke, I filmed many scenes in Grønland, a popular neighbourhood of Oslo that is familiar to me.
Your film talks about refugees who...
Lets stay away from words like refugee, asylum seekers, foreigners, etc... I don’t like to put names on things. We are too influenced by the enticing titles of tabloids. We’re all human beings, with our dreams, ambitions, even when we’ve been dealt a different hand. I tried to talk about humans in a realistic fashion, but at the same time I tried to show how my characters see themselves in the world in which they evolve, to make their way of life, the way they breathe, and their vulnerabilities palpable... I tried to come at them from the inside in a certain way. They are moved by their feelings and do not consider the possible consequences of their actions. They aren’t calculating... They act depending on the circumstances surrounding them.
The film does not lack highlights.
Indeed, there are dramatic moments, sometimes a great tension between the characters, because they are very different: the youngest is 15 years old, the oldest 83. The severity, or tenacity rather, of my characters comes from their motivations. Some of them accept their lives as they are, others would rather fight adversity. Come what may. But lightness and humour are also present in my film: they are often born from the absurdity of the situations. There is tenderness too. I would like to bring the spectator to think about our behaviour, to consider all these people we so often ignore and judge based on their appearance, a veil, a scarf... More than groups or communities, it’s individuals that interest me, people with whom I like to have a relationship, for better or for worse. Behind the curtain often hides...
And deceptions too, because people are complex. But it’s like salt and sugar: it is difficult to tell them apart when they are mixed. They are part of the same society.
The ending seems open.
The ending imposed itself on me. It was always present, in a latent state, even if I was unaware of it. It was inherently part of the story, and could only be evident, even if there are unexpected elements.
How long did the filming last?
Thirty-five days, stretched over several years. I made this film practically at the same time as my previous film, Before snowfall [+see also:
film profile], which had the backing of the Norwegian Film Institute. A letter to the king is an independent film that I coproduced myself with Alan Milligan who heads Film Farms, with the participation of Filmtreff and Storyline Studios for the equipment. The organization Fritt Ord, which campaigns for freedom of expression, also offered their backing. Making a movie with very little money is no easy task. But when you believe in the project and are ready to give it all you’ve got and you keep in mind the qualitative criteria, all hope is allowed. These days, commercialism too often takes over the artistic ambitions of creators. I nevertheless hope to be able to continue for a while to be a witness of my time by telling my stories.
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