Paul Kieffer • Director
"An Arabia straight from the imagination"
In Paul Kieffer's latest film Arabian Nights [+see also:
film profile], classical melodrama and a contemporary story meet and mingle when a Luxembourg train conductor falls in love with a mysterious girl from Algeria.
Cineuropa: What is the origin of the story of the film?
Paul Kieffer: The first version of the storyline came to me on a train. I was wondering how I could weld together the structure of a classical melodrama and a contemporary story set in Luxembourg when the train conductor came to punch my ticket. At that moment, the last images of Josef von Sternberg’s Morocco were on my mind and I wondered what needed to happen to this conductor so that at the end of a love story he could find himself wondering into the desert like Marlene Dietrich.
The film industry in Luxembourg is rather small, much like the audience for films in Luxembourgish. Does this influence the way in which you work?
Films in Luxembourgish can do very well on the tiny interior market. They sometimes attract up to 10% of the local population, which amounts to about 40,000 tickets. It is true, however, that films that are not in Luxembourgish are not as interesting for the locals. Arabian Nights proposes a compromise in which the locals speak in Luxembourgish when amongst themselves and speak French when with they are French-speakers, much like in real life. This helps the Luxembourg audiences to identify themselves with the hero while the film perhaps also becomes somewhat more accessible for those who do not speak the language. Besides the language issue, it was our idea from the start to make a film that was very much open to the outside world as well as typically Luxembourg at the same time.
You have also worked with Jules Werner as an actor in the theatre. Was the role of Georges written with him in mind? What did he bring to the role?
In the first drafts of the screenplay, the character was older, and it was only halfway through, when the character became younger, that I thought of Jules for the role. During the preproduction of the film, we did a play together and during this time we also worked on the character of Georges. I am convinced that it is in large part due to the natural and discreet style of Jules’ acting that the character of Georges is such a sympathetic and, I hope, credible character.
The film sees the Arab world as something that is quite abstract and exotic, and the film changes from something realistic to something more fantastic as the story develops. How did you work on the differences and, later, the mix of these two extremes?
The film adopts Georges’ view of the world throughout. Since there are very few Maghrebi immigrants in Luxembourg, for Georges, Yamina and her world are something exotic and almost unreal, also because the things the young woman tells Georges about her past are more based on fables than autobiography. When Georges falls in love with Yamina he immediately starts to question the banal but comfortable reality he has known until then. And when he leaves for the unknown, in search of his lost lover, he does not really travel into contemporary Algeria as much as he travels straight to the Arabia of his imagination. It is in this world, more or less fantastic, that the ordinary train conductor can become, for a short time, a hero of a movie.
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