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GHENT 2021

Nabil Ben Yadir • Director of Animals

"To tell this radical story, an equally radical form was needed"


- A meeting with the Belgian filmmaker, who delivers with his fourth feature a film that plunges into the heart of the darkness of the human soul by probing a racist and homophobic crime

Nabil Ben Yadir  • Director of Animals

A meeting with Belgian filmmaker Nabil Ben Yadir, who with Animals [+see also:
film review
interview: Nabil Ben Yadir
film profile
, his fourth feature film, presented at the 48th Ghent Film Festival, delivers a harsh and uncompromising film, a radical cinematic gesture that plunges into the heart of the darkness of the human soul by probing the unspeakable of a racist and homophobic crime.

Cineuropa: How did you come to want to tell this story?
Nabil Ben Yadir: At the time of Ihsane Jarfi's murder, the newspapers were talking about a homophobic crime. And I asked myself why they were talking about a homophobic crime and not a racist crime. When does sexuality take over identity? I followed the trial, and I wondered about the human race, about the birth of monsters. How does one become a monster in such a short time, and how does one live with it? How do you live the day after the crime? I met Ihsane's father. He told me: "The only thing I want is for people to feel Ihsane's tragedy through cinema. That we get to the bottom of what he went through." Reflecting on the form took time.

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To tell such a radical story, you needed an even more radical form?
Exactly, we needed a radical form, and to follow the characters as closely as possible. We were radical in the format, choosing 4/3, with a single focal length. We thought long and hard about how to film the violence, and in the end, I don't film it. At the height of the aggression, I am no longer the one filming, there is no longer a director, no longer a cinematographer, the actors, or rather the characters they play, have the power. They are the ones filming and passing on their version of the story. We live in a society where violence can never be completely avoided, it is omnipresent. There is one thing, however, that multiplies the violence, and that is the act of being filmed. You want to be the strongest, the most beautiful, the funniest. The most violent. We live in a world of mise en scène. Everyone looks at each other.

The most violent thing is not so much the violence itself, as the indifference to it.
For me, one of the first forms of violence is the lack of vocabulary and the absence of communication. In the car, communication is impossible. For me, this is one of the most violent scenes. The absence of words is a form of societal violence. Violence reaches its peak when you consider that the person in front of you is no longer a human being, that he is a toy, a piece of meat. There are no more limits at that point. It's like hitting a bag, an inanimate object.

The film has is a nihilistic dimension, a total darkness...
What interested me was, what were these guys going to do the next day? Were they going to go home and sleep peacefully? Would they have breakfast? Is there a life after crime? How does society create monsters? These are not monsters like in American films, which you identify at first sight, but monsters that suddenly reveal themselves. There is a training, a group effect. If each of these guys had come across Brahim alone, what would they have said to each other?

When there is a crime, there is a victim, and the whole first part of the film brings Brahim back to life.
Yes, it's very important. I hope to have achieved something like that, to give body and life to the victim. To allow an encounter with him. The victim, in the case of this kind of murder, is a person who pays for his difference. It could be a black man in the United States, or a young homosexual in Liege. One of the things that caught my attention when I discovered this crime was: where does this young man come from, what do his parents discover about him with his death?

Can we talk about the meaning of this desire for realism? From the very beginning, we read the title card "Based on a true story."
In fact, I find that the closer we get to a form of realism, the more we are in cinema, a cinema free of artifice. This produces an intense emotion, we are with the character, we follow him, we are permanently with him. Whether it's the victim or the executioner.

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(Translated from French by Manuela Lazic)

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