Nawell Madani • Director
"I wanted to show what goes on behind the scenes in an environment that we rarely see in films"
by Aurore Engelen
- We met up with Belgian actress and comedian Nawell Madani, whose debut film, C'est tout pour moi, is released today in France and Belgium
The actress and comedian living in Paris, Nawell Madani, known for Jamel Comedy Club, has thrown herself head first into a cinematographic adventure with C’est tout pour moi [+see also:
interview: Nawell Madani
film profile], a debut and largely autobiographical film that follows the journey of a young woman who is desperate to succeed, from the tower blocks of Marolles, Brussels to the spotlights of Paris.
Cineuropa: What’s your background?
Nawell Madani: I am a young woman from Brussels who left my native country to conquer Paris and become a comedian, the classic dream! I was a dancer/choreographer, and I couldn’t make a living from my art in Belgium. There is not really any sort of showcase for that type of performance, be it dance or stand-up in Belgium. I've been in Paris for 10 years, I went from being a dancer/choreographer to a comedian, and then a director and screenwriter for my first film.
How did the idea of making your own film come about?
I wrote my own show, and a producer came to me and suggested that I make a film. I thought maybe the adaptation wouldn’t work so I offered him something else, so as to protect the idea of sharing my experience, but was then inspired by my own story when pitching another. I really wanted to show what goes on behind the scenes in an environment that we rarely see in films, especially French cinema, whether it's stand-up or dance battles, two environments that are extremely hard for women. When a girl gets into these circles, she really has to cling on, be a real boxer and fight back.
I didn’t feel like directing the film on my own, so I worked with chief operator Ludovic Colbeau-Justin, who co-directed it with me. But I had very specific ideas, particularly regarding the use of amateur actors, who make up 90% of the cast. The only professional actor in the film is François Berléand, who played the role with a lot of enthusiasm and elegance. So I had to direct the actors, take care of the sets, the styling, the dialogue.
Beyond the dance and stand-up circles, is it also a family tragicomedy?
Yes, the first obstacle when you want to extract yourself from a certain situation is often your family. It’s the first obstacle you have to overcome. Once your family is convinced, everything else opens up. The main character is confronted with this obstacle, which is quickly transformed into a means of propelling herself forwards. But it’s really quite universal, whatever one’s ambition, background or culture may be.
What are your influences? What sort of film were you hoping to make?
I wanted to make a film like the ones I like to watch, one of those films that makes you want to kick the bin on the way out. That make you feel like a karate champion or dancing star. My references are quite Anglo-Saxon, from Rocky to 8 Mile or Billy Elliot, destinies that are marked by perseverance in the face of adversity. In terms of stand-up, a film like Lenny maybe, and in terms of dance, Flashdance, of course! It's a film carried by music. Music is really a character in the film itself. I had to fight with my producer to include the right titles and to devote the necessary budget to it.
Do you feel like a role model?
I would never want to carry the weight of such a title! I am proud of my double culture, it is incredibly rewarding, but I am no role model. That's why I agreed to star in Alibi.com [+see also:
film profile], for example. I got insulting comments about my outfits, etc. but I claim the right to represent myself as who I am! On stage and in film I walk a tight rope, but I hold onto my freedom of expression.
You have been living in Paris for 10 years, the film is partly produced in France, what do you consider to be Belgium about the film?
I’ve done a lot of screenings, and the audience will often say to me: "It's weird, we wouldn't call it a French film, we wouldn't call it an American film..." Well yeah, that’s because it's a Belgian film! It’s true that we have a very present Anglo-Saxon culture, especially among Flemish directors, but we also have an identity of our own. We speak French, but we have an atypical flavour, and a sense of self-derision, that's, let's say... different. We’re also jacks-of-all-trades, as we have to wear a lot of hats to make a living from our art, basically!
(Translated from French)
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