The American director of Egyptian origin Lotfy Nathan presented this 19 house film Harkaen official selection at the Cannes Film Festival. It is the story of a young man, Ali, who rebelled against the ubiquitous corruption and injustice in his country, Tunisia. A dive into the Tunisian reality for those who have remained in the country, ten years after the “Jasmine Revolution” and the “Arab Spring”. Maintenance.
RFI: What does “Harka»?
Lotfy Nathan: Harka has a double meaning. In Tunisia, it is slang for illegal migration across the Mediterranean to Europe. And it also means self-burning.
Harka, is the portrait and story of a man, Ali, or of an entire country, Tunisia?
I’m sticking to the story of a man, Ali. It’s a more flexible way to tell this story. It’s always focused on one character, although I think he represents a much larger group. Everything remains in orbit around Ali.
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Many things remind us of the Arab Spring that began in Tunisia in December 2010, following the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a young street vendor, and the resignation of Tunisian President Ben Ali in January 2011. We see corruption in your films. , poverty, unemployment, distress, injustice and even the young traveling salesman. Your movie, it could also have been called Ten Years After 2011?
Yes, that would be an interesting title. It could have been called so …
The very big difference between your film and the Arab Spring is that your main character Ali is almost always left alone to stand up and rebel against the ubiquitous injustice in society. Otherwise, everyone does it and looks elsewhere. At the beginning of the film, you tell the story of a lake discovered in the middle of a desert. A story. A dream. A miracle. Except that we sometimes discover that it is an abyss, a phosphorus mine. And the poisoned water turns black. Do you have an explanation for why people continue to swim in this lake?
No, I have no explanation for it myself. The film is about shattered dreams and people’s need to hold on to some form of endeavor. Otherwise they would have nothing to believe in and nowhere to go. This is what the film highlights.
We follow the character Ali who is against this rotten society from top to bottom, who has left his family, but who is forced to accept illegal jobs and give money to the police to survive. At first he is fully occupied with himself and his dream of leaving the country to seek a better future in Europe. But after his father’s death, he takes care of his two little sisters and tries to secure a future for them. On the other hand, he no longer sees a future for himself. He belongs to a lost generation?
Yes, the movie is about this lost generation. The story is made to show in an accessible way how someone can find themselves in lack of funds and in desperate need. The film is about the chain reaction that follows.
You are an American filmmaker from a Coptic Egyptian family and born in England. You have declared yourself: “I have always felt a little outside the Arab world and the Western world.When we see how you film people (local, non-professional actors, in addition to the lead role wonderfully played by Adam Bessa) and the travel photos with your camera to capture the Tunisian landscape, we feel a great love for the men and women of this country. What is your relationship with Tunisia??
We spent a lot of time developing this story in Tunisia, we did a lot of research. I really liked the people I met there and the places, the environment. I saw him as a foreigner. I may have romanticized it. When I made these trips, these car trips to the Libyan border, I often thought of westerns. We mentioned this aspect in the movie. It was a somewhat whimsical and poetic way of approaching the subject, in an intuitive way. I ended up relying on being an outsider in my aesthetic choices. But I think it’s an interesting marriage.
Why did you choose Tunisia and not Egypt, Morocco or Algeria for your film??
It all started with the origin of the revolution. The starting point was a small Tunisian town, Sidi Bouzid. We could film where the revolution began. This has always been my goal. And maybe it also comes from my experience as a documentary filmmaker. I needed a place to focus. To have a landmark somewhere to make the film on.
This is your first fiction film. At one point, Ali’s little sister, who is learning the language, conjures up a phrase in French: “Do not walk in front of me, I may not follow, do not walk behind me, I may not guide you. Go next to me and be my friend. “Is this also your common thread for filming?
I think it’s a good motto, a pretty good motto. It’s by Albert Camus. For the recording, I put this motto into practice. It was very cooperative. Otherwise I would not have been able to handle this film, even with the language barrier. This movie went very side by side.
In your 2013 documentary, 12 O’Clock Boy, you told the story of a gang in Baltimore, also against a backdrop of poverty and desperation for many people. Do you see any parallels between the situation in Baltimore and Tunisia?
There are parallels everywhere. What is similar is this abstract form of rebellion. When society pulls you down. For me, it is a parallel that I discovered here at the Cannes Film Festival, when I talked to people about the film here.
This is your first film and you have already been selected in the prestigious Un Certain Regard section of Cannes. What does this mean for you??
It’s really exciting, amazing. Yesterday I saw Top Gun with Tom Cruise. It was awesome.
And for your film and your career, what are you waiting for?
I try not to expect anything. Let’s see what happens. With a little luck, I will have the opportunity to direct the project for my next film, a horror film, and bring it here.