"Everyone is first and foremost human"
by Boyd van Hoeij
- A comical buffoon and respected actor reveals his most important asset: an uncanny intelligence
Mimoun Oaïssa was born in 1975 in Morocco, and studied acting at the Amsterdam theatre school and in New York. He was part of the theatre-ensemble Toneelgroep Amsterdam and has worked on various TV-series and films since 1994. He was the initiator as well as the protagonist of Shouf Shouf Habibi, which earned him a Special Jury Prize at the 2004 Dutch Film Festival as well as a best actor nomination. His role as Amimoun in Het Schnitzelparadijs [+see also:
interview: Martin Khoolhoven
interview: Mimoun Oaïssa
film profile] (Schnitzel Paradise) earned him a best supporting actor win the following year, shared with some other male actors of the cast.
Cineuropa: Could you talk a bit about and compare your roles in Shouf Shouf Habibi and Het Schnitzelparadijs ?
Mimoun Oaïssa: In Shouf Shouf Habibi I play Ap, who is a boy with a dream who tries to get by but keeps finding setbacks on his path while in Het Schnitzelparadijs, I am more of a comical buffoon. There is a difference between the two films, of course, with Shouf Shouf Habibi being more of a tragicomedy with more dramatic elements. Het Schnitzelparadijs is more of a pure, feel-good comedy in the strict sense of the word. I helped create both characters, though for Shouf Shouf Habibi, I was one of the initiators and driving forces behind the film, whilst for Het Schnitzelparadijs I was simply cast in the role. Nevertheless I was able to bring a lot to the latter role as well; I think that about 80% of the character’s texts in the film are actually from my hand.
How much of yourself has gone into Ap and Mimoun?
I think that there has to be a clear separation between what I bring to a role as an actor and what I bring to the role as a person. As an actor I actively participated in the creation of the two characters, but neither of them has much autobiographical content. I rarely use my own direct experiences for the roles that I play. Of course I’m always searching for a way to relate to the character’s problems and to the theme of the story, but that’s more on an abstract level.
What has been the importance of both films for the Dutch public and society?
Shouf Shouf touched more on the real problems of integration and culture clashes, but I think that both films have been embraced by audiences for the simple reason that they are quality Dutch films of which, unfortunately, there are not enough. Reactions have been very positive, also because I think film offers youngsters a window on what is happening in Dutch society that is fundamentally different from the serious, perhaps polarising tone of a debate or a newspaper article. A film offers everyone the possibility to find oneself in the middle of the action and to feel for the characters; it is a more emotional experience. In the end, for example in the kitchen of Het Schnitzelparadijs, which is a microcosm of Dutch society, one can show that everyone is first and foremost human, a condition that we all share. Besides that, I think that there are perhaps not enough films that speak directly to the immigrant families and youngsters, especially in the big cities, where they can make up up to 50% of the population; they simply do not recognise themselves in the Dutch youth films that have been made. With Shouf Shouf and Het Schnitzelparadijs, we offer them something with which they identify but which does not exclude the non-immigrant viewers at all, which partially explains their success.
Shouf Shouf Habibi has been shown or will be shown in around 40 countries; what do you think is the international appeal of films such as Shouf and Het Schnitzelparadijs?
I think the immigrant experience is not something that is bound to one country or culture; we can all identify with not fitting in somewhere. The kitchen environment in Het Schnitzelparadijs is certainly recognisable for many. I must say that when one is working on the film, one does not think that much about its possible universality, one just tries to make a good film that one hopes will do well for its first intended audience, in this case the Dutch youngsters. When it is received well abroad, it just is the cherry on the cake.