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Damien Ounouri • Director

"I will take his palace, ride his horse, and his wife"


- We met up with Damien Ounouri to chat about his project La Dernière reine at the Cinemed Meetings

Damien Ounouri • Director
(© Karim Moussaoui)

Known for documentaries such as Xiao Jia Going Home (on Jia Zhangke) or Fidaï [+see also:
film profile
(screened at Toronto in 2012), the Franco-Algerian filmmaker Damien Ounouri recently moved onto fiction with Kindil el Bahr, a 40-minute film presented at the Directors' Fortnight in 2016. We met up with him at the 39th Mediterranean Film Festival in Montpellier, where he pitched for funding to aid the development of his most recent project, La Dernière reine (lit. The Last Queen), which has sparked great interest.

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Cineuropa: Algiers in 1516, the corsair Barbarossa, a king and his wife. What attracted you to the subject of La Dernière reine?
Damien Ounouri: It was my scriptwriter, Adila Bendimerad, who told me the story, as she wanted to adapt it for the theatre. La Dernière reine was originally a legend. In 1515, Algiers – an Arab-Berber republic occupied by the Spaniards – appealed to the Barbarossa brothers to be freed. The Barbarossa, who actually existed and who were Albanian-Greek corsairs, used to liberate occupied Muslim peoples and restore power to their legitimate kings. They had already done so in Tunisia as well as some Algerian cities. When speaking about the king of Algiers, Aroudj Barbarossa would have said: "I will take his palace, ride his horse, and his wife". Very soon after the liberation of the city, the king is found dead and Barbarossa asks to marry his widow. She commits suicide on their wedding night, thus restoring her honour to the people of Algiers. The pivotal point of the film is the woman's journey. What does it mean to be a woman in 16th century Algiers? What room does a woman have to act when she spends most of her days indoors, not permitted to go outside like her male counterparts? There is something quite universal about the condition of women because, despite things having changed in Europe, questions about the female body in public spaces still exist to this day in the Maghreb. This will be a very intimate period piece, with little known costumes and a very vivid world. An aesthetic that is quite different to what we may have otherwise seen, keeping in mind that the film will have a budget of €1.5 million. You don't begin an epic film with grand re-enactments.

Are you thinking of filming the exterior nautical shots in Malta?
We're looking into that possibility as Malta has many facilities for filming: studios, boat production or the possibility to re-use boats from previous shoots, as well as professional extras whose language and physique is quite close to that of the Algerians. Some very short plot scenes, such as the liberation of Algiers, which happens just outside the city walls on the waterfront, could also potentially be filmed in Malta as it’s a fortified city while Algiers no longer has its city walls.

What is your financing strategy?
For the moment, it's an Algerian production. We are in talks with French producers to wrap up by the end of the year and begin initial applications for funding and the search for a distributor. We have a costume specialist who specialises on costumes from 16th century Algiers, who also worked at La Scala in Milan for ten years and who has workshops in Italy, so we would definitely welcome a co-production with Italy, or even Norway, with Sørfond. But it could equally be Germany, thanks to the artistic contributions of its technicians. We therefore have an extended production strategy, even though Algeria and France will be the major pivots. We’re ideally hoping to film at the end of 2018 or early 2019.

You’re also your own producers, along with Adila Bendimerad,
It allows us to control and maintain our independence. It's time that we can't spend on anything else, but we can make films which we have no regrets about afterwards. With this project, we’ve now reached the stage of delegating to other producers, who will ultimately be much better than us, we’ll choose carefully and will find people who are in the right frame of mind and who really like the project.

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(Translated from French)

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