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BRIFF 2022

Christophe Rolin • Director of Le Voyage de Talia

"I had to deconstruct a lot of things in order to create Le Voyage de Talia"

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- The Belgian director speaks to us about his first fiction feature film, revolving around a young Belgian woman of African descent who dreams of Africa and goes off in search of her roots

Christophe Rolin • Director of Le Voyage de Talia

We met with Belgian director Christophe Rolin as he unveiled his debut fiction feature Le Voyage de Talia [+see also:
film review
interview: Christophe Rolin
film profile
]
in a premiere held within the Brussels International Film Festival’s National Competition.

Cineuropa: How did this project come about?
Christophe Rolin:
It all began a bit by chance. My friend and I started out with the idea of making a documentary in Senegal, a country which we’d chosen randomly. Once there, a school on the outskirts of Dakar opened its doors to us and we met several Senegalese filmmakers with whom we co-directed a short fiction film called Dem Dem.

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It was the story of a fisherman who finds a Belgian passport and dreams of leaving for Europe. The short worked well; it was selected for Clermont-Ferrand and it won the Tanit d’Argent Award in Carthage. On impulse, we thought why not tell the opposite story, of a young African-Belgian woman who dreams of Africa. It was quite conceptual to begin with, and it was only during the casting phase that I realised just how big the subject-matter was. It dawned on me that it would be a challenge for me to tell this story, because I’m a man and because I’m white. In Belgium and Europe, we have lots of projections and misconceptions about what an African country might be like, about what Africanness is. We had to deconstruct a lot of things and surround ourselves with the right people.

And how did you surround yourself with these people?
I utilised the casting process to interview candidates who were auditioning for Talia’s role, trying to work out where they stood by asking simple questions: do people often ask you where you come from? Do you spend much time thinking about the colour of your skin? How do you imagine an African country to be?

It made me realise that there were a multitude of unique stories. And that, until we actually visited the continent, we were all on the same page in terms of our perceptions of Africa. We’re tributaries of the stories we’re told, and notably of the way the media feeds these to us, a media which often paints the continent in a catastrophic light. I saw things for myself: I walked through the streets of Dakar, I talked to people, I fed my imagination through my own experience of the city, so as to go beyond what I’d read or heard.

Talia goes off in search of her identity, and it’s by comparing herself with others than she finds it…
I developed the idea that Talia needs to belong, that she’s looking for some sort of acceptance, without even realising it, in my opinion. Lots of the film’s sequences revolve around the idea of being accepted for a “real” African. We tell ourselves that African girls know how to dance, that they like spicy food, but these are misconceptions, projections. These misconceptions that I may or may not have are dictates for the character of Talia, which she carries on her shoulders. She wrestles with all of this throughout the entire story, or almost all of it. There’s a scene where Malika provokes her a little bit. If you’re a real African, eat this spice. And Talia takes it very seriously.

Was there a desire to portray Dakar and Senegal differently, to reveal a daily life not so different to our own?
Obviously I felt a sense of responsibility. Lots of filmmakers and ethnologists who came before us constructed a colonial form of propaganda, sometimes against their will. This far down the line, we ask ourselves how we should film an African town, without effacing or obliterating poverty but taking care to show the area’s richness and diversity. Not out of a desire to make reparations, but to go gently and to show what we see.

The story is carried by two other characters, alongside Talia: her cousin Binta and her neighbour Malika.
Talia’s cousin Binta lives in another, mega-monied world. There’s a totally unabashed upper social class in Dakar. Binta is actually quite funny, even though she lives a very lonely life. Malika is a slightly ambiguous character who fits in with Talia’s projections. Malika holds up a mirror to Talia’s imagined reality and confronts her with it. It’s a friendship which is often gentle and beautiful, but also occasionally complicated. Malika is a bit like a djinn. A slightly ambivalent spirit that needs to be tamed.

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(Translated from French)

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