Nabil Ben Yadir • Director
“With humour, anything goes, even the most taboo subjects”
by Dimitra Bouras & Jean-Michel Vlaeminckx
- Cinergie met with a film enthusiast who started his career as an actor before moving on to directing and making a debut feature that is skilful in its mockery
Cinergie: You set yourself a considerable challenge by making your feature debut, Les Barons [+see also:
Interview with director and actress of…
interview: Nabil Ben Yadir
film profile], a comedy. Why did you choose the difficult genre?
Nabil Ben Yadir: At the outset, I simply wanted to tell a story, my story. But the tone became too serious and I felt I was reproducing the conventions of films about the city’s poor neighbourhoods. I was starting to go round in circles. Then I met Laurent Brandenbourger: the two of us started fooling around and we were off. As soon as I found a tone I felt truly comfortable with, nothing could hold me back anymore. And with humour, anything goes, even the most taboo subjects!
Where do you get your crude jokes from?
It’s Brussels humour, from my neighbourhood. Time drags in my neighbourhood, so we tell each other jokes. They sometimes last for hours on end; what matters is not that they make people laugh, but that they kill time.
What made you realise you were capable of making films, even though you had no film school training?
With my electrical engineering qualification, I had no choice. Either I repaired washing machines or I tried my hand at filmmaking. The washing machines could wait, there’ll always be plenty in need of repair. I wanted to write, so I tried, without expecting much to come of it. I was extremely lucky to meet Diana Elbaum from the production company Entre Chien et Loup, who believed in the project and supported me all the way, even though I took some time to finish the script.
How did you choose the actors?
I knew Mourade Zeguendi when we were kids. And when I saw him in big productions like Dikkenek, I said to myself we’ve more or less followed the same path. We come from the same place and we’ve both tried to make our own way.
Mounir Aït Hamou is making his screen debut. He’s a mate who accompanied me to castings because when I travelled to Paris, I didn’t like being alone. We did some castings, but we didn’t really find what we were looking for. Then I did a casting with him, and he was hired.
For the lead role of Hassan, I received a pile of 300 photos. I chose 15. Nader wasn’t among them: he had sent in a blurred photo! The casting director didn’t think that 15 candidates were enough. So I picked out another bundle of photos at random and there was the blurred one. At the casting, as soon as I saw Nader Boussandel, I knew he was the one for the role.
I met Amelle Chahbi, who had never appeared in a film before, at the Jamel Comedy Club, during a tour in Brussels. It’s so rare to see girls with a great sense of humour get up on stage and do stand-up. For the character of Malika, I wanted an actress who was the perfect TV newsreader, but with a touch of humour in her eyes. She blew me away!
How did you work with the actors? Did you suggest they improvise on ideas?
No, I’m always afraid of improvisation. The film’s dialogues were very much written in advance. If everyone sticks their oar in and adds their own sense of humour, we end up getting confused.
The sketch played by Amelle disguised as a boy can’t have been easy.
In this scene, I wanted to show that even when we’re alone and nobody is watching us, in order to communicate with ourselves sincerely, we have to disguise ourselves and use comedy as a vehicle. We can’t simply be sincere, we always feel the burden of our neighbourhood and family. You always feel as if you’re committing a betrayal.
But this isn’t the case for you?
No, because I tell the story in the first person. This is my life, and these are my mates. This will sound like a bit of an oversimplification but I’ve opened the door and filmed in my street. I know these people and neighbourhoods. There’s a kind of Baronsmania in Molenbeek. And I’m happy to have contributed to the fact that Molenbeek now appears on the culture pages.
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