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BIF&ST 2018

Walid Mattar • Director

"Two different tranches de vie, without falling victim to clichés or bleakness"

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- The Tunisian director Walid Mattar talks to us about his debut feature film, Nothern Wind, selected in international competition at Bari Bif&st

Walid Mattar • Director
(© Bif&st)

A member of the Tunisian Federation of Amateur Filmmakers since the age of 13 and the director of several short films, including Poussières d'étoiles, co-directed with Leyla Bouzid, the 38-year-old director Walid Mattar has chosen to focus his debut feature film, Northern Wind [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Walid Mattar
film profile
]
– written in collaboration with Bouzid (director of As I Open My Eyes [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Leyla Bouzid
film profile
]
) and Claude Le Pape (nominated for a César for Best Screenplay for The Fighters [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Thomas Cailley
film profile
]
and Bloody Milk [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Hubert Charuel
film profile
]
) – on a story of relocation that takes place between France and Tunisia, starring Philippe Rebbot and the Tunisian rapper Mohamed Amine Hamzaoui. The film was screened in international competition at Bari Bif&st.

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Cineuropa: Are there any autobiographical elements to your film?
Walid Mattar: The film stems from the desire to tell the story of two lives and two geographically distant social classes that I know very well, one south of Tunis and the other in northern France. There are some aspects of my life in the film. I grew up in a popular district of Tunis, then at the age of 23, I moved to Paris and later, for family reasons, I got to know the French countryside. I discovered that people are the same everywhere, when they’re of the same social class. In this case, they are poor, living in a seaside town, with very strong family ties. Relocation is the basic idea here – when you relocate a factory, there are some people who lose their jobs, and others who are exploited – but I wanted to concentrate more on the human side to things. 

You wrote the screenplay for your first film together with two well-respected colleagues, Leyla Bouzid and Claude Le Pape. How did they contribute to the screenplay?
When I first thought of the idea I spoke to Leyla, who I have been friends with for years, and we started writing together. She is very dramatic and has many ideas, especially when writing characters. Since the basic idea was to focus on the human side of things, we began to develop intimate stories: the story of a father and son in France, a love story and the story of a child who wants to protect his mother in Tunisia. The screenplay took two years. Claude joined the project halfway through the writing stage as we needed another pair of eyes. The film has a tough subject matter, but I wanted to bring some lightness to the film, and Claude knows how to make things more light-hearted. We were very well organised in the division of work. For me it’s essential for a debut film to have a good screenplay, also technically, with particular attention paid to set design, characters and costumes. This film is all about the details, I wanted to tell the story of two tranches de vie, but I didn’t want to fall victim to clichés or bleakness. 

Could the film also be seen as a bitter denunciation of a system that, in different ways, stifles ordinary people?
Yes, but it’s not a direct denunciation, that's not the role of cinema, in my opinion. It's a social film, with a cause, but one that remains focused on the human side of things, which always comes second to profit. Relocation creates unemployment on the one hand, while creating jobs that don't allow young people to progress on the other. I love the subtlety of films with a cause, that push the viewer to reflect, without putting yourself in the place of the viewer. I wanted to remind people that family relationships are important, a father and son can understand each other, but if things don't work out, it's the fault of the laws that only serve to protect the rights of big fishermen. I also wanted to remind people how difficult it is to experience love in Tunisia.

In fact, the development of the story between Foued and Karima is not what you might expect.
After the closure of Hervé factory, we move to Tunisia and the European viewer thinks that there’s hope as jobs have been created there. At the beginning, I lead the audience to believe that everything is fine for Foued, and in the first part of the film he and Karima are together, even if only in secret. The reality is that young people are under a lot of pressure to get married and settle down soon, but it takes money. So love ultimately comes face-to-face with this issue. As Charles Bukowski once said, "love is a fog that burns with the first daylight of reality."

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(Translated from Italian)

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