Rachid Hami • Director of For My Country
"It’s not a case of the army against a family of suburban Arabs"
- VENICE 2022: The director sheds light on his second feature, a fiction film inspired by the accidental death of his own brother while training to be an officer in the French army
For My Country [+see also:
interview: Rachid Hami
film profile], the second feature film by French director Rachid Hami, was presented in the Orizzonti line-up of the 79th Venice Film Festival, where the filmmaker previously unveiled his debut opus Orchestra Class [+see also:
film profile] in 2017.
Cineuropa: What made you decide to make a film about the painful subject of your brother’s death?
Rachid Hami: I felt there was something quite interesting for audiences in my little brother’s fate: the story of an Algerian immigrant who became a suburbanite, a Saint-Cyr graduate and who then died for France - it’s pretty much the story of our country, of France as we know it today and all that it consists of. The most important thing was shaking up given ideas, because for years people have been making films about the Paris suburbs, featuring characters who dream about money, power and strength and who worship violence. I had an opportunity to testify to the existence of a silent majority in these neighbourhoods - because that’s where I grew up - who dream of honour, dignity, a sense of belonging and integration, without having to deny their roots or their religion. I felt like it was my duty to tell this story for them, and for my brother too: to affirm their existence.
Why did you decide to approach the subject from an intimate perspective rather than tackling it head-on and confronting the military about your brother’s death and burial?
When you live through things first-hand, nothing is ever black or white; it’s very nuanced, very complicated. It’s not a case of the army against a family of suburban Arabs - far from it. I didn’t want to make a film that was against anyone; I couldn’t dishonour my brother and be entirely against the army because he was a part of it. It was a really tricky situation because, like in all institutions, there are all kinds of people in the army, including good people, and there are human beings behind those uniforms. Aïssa was part of that institution and the Saïdi family are a modern family. The mother is educated and strong, she doesn’t wear a headscarf and she’s not illiterate. But honour and dignity for her son are important to her, and to the brother Ismaël, too. The latter feels as if he needs to compile a report of his brother’s life. And I also chose to tell this story from Ismaël’s perspective because I don’t want to betray my brother; it’s ethical.
How did you manage the richness of the screenplay: the passing of time as we experience it in the present, flashbacks to Aïssa’s childhood in Algeria and the time he spent as a student in Taiwan, and the visit Ismaël pays him?
That was the challenge from the outset. I wanted the film to unfold across three time periods so that it could become an epic. The more epic it was, the less linear, head-on and anti-army it was, and the more it became a film, because we were getting into the heads of our characters, into Ismael’s, his past, and his little brother’s. I also wanted to offer audiences an auteur film which would take them on an adventure, more so than you might imagine from the basic concept of the film.
The missing person is clearly very present in the film, but the protagonist is the big brother, who takes a good look at himself during the grieving process.
If I’d made a film about Aïssa, I would have been betraying my brother. It’s a quest for redemption. Ismaël faces up to his demons, what he was, what he is, what he doesn’t want to be and what he wants to become. His journey, like his brother’s, are like two mirrors. If Ismaël hadn’t gone to Taiwan, he might have handled this situation differently, he might not have understood what he understood in the story’s present time. Because he’s looking for forgiveness: forgiveness from his family, forgiveness from society, forgiveness from his brother who’s dead.
The film is inevitably moving, but it’s nonetheless restrained.
Certain films were like compasses for me, especially Edward Yang’s movies, with their emotional distance. Personally, I don’t get on with romanticism in films, and the idea of approaching the most excruciating feelings with a certain sense of dispassion appealed to me, because this dispassion allows viewers to feel whatever they want.
(Translated from French)
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