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CANNES 2023 Directors’ Fortnight

Faouzi Bensaïdi • Director of Deserts

“This is a film against close-ups”


- CANNES 2023: Wide open spaces are the clear protagonists in the Moroccan director's buddy movie-turned-love story

Faouzi Bensaïdi  • Director of Deserts

It’s all about that vast, gorgeous, almost scary Moroccan desert in Faouzi Bensaïdi’s Deserts [+see also:
film review
interview: Faouzi Bensaïdi
film profile
, shown in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight. At least once his two hapless characters (Fehd Benchemsi and Abdelhadi Taleb) set out on their chase, knocking on the doors of the unfortunate souls who have taken out loans and will never be able to pay them back.

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Cineuropa: Do you see this story as a road movie? It certainly feels like one.
Faouzi Bensaïdi:
This film came from so many desires. One of them had to do with this ability to play with very different genres – road movie was one of them. There is a car, a desert, there are these two people. Then again, it’s a road movie, but it’s not really a road movie. It’s a western, but it’s not really a western. It’s comedy, but not completely, and it’s not completely tragic either. It’s a film that tries to do many things.

It's also about stories and storytelling. At one point, someone says: “It’s the listener that brings stories to life. Alone, they don’t exist.”
Yes, or about films and filmmaking! There is this scene when a character states that a story never allows you to forget. They bring back so much: memories, feelings.

You seem to be very inspired by the landscape – you just keep looking at it, usually for a very long time. This unfortunate duo seems so tiny and frail when surrounded by it.
I wanted to show the power of nature. Later on, as the story unfolds, it starts to feel like we are in that ancient world before words, when humans and animals were still coexisting together. I have to say that when I look for locations, it’s just like looking for actors. It’s the same thing and I really pay so much attention to it. I just hope that seeing these places will make people feel something. It’s a film against close-ups – also because these days, we see them everywhere. I wanted to forget about them for a bit, embrace this scope and very long shots. I keep saying that in the first part, this film is a novel. In the second, it’s pure poetry.

Exactly – it’s a film of two halves.
I know they are drastically different, but it allowed me to introduce all these layers. So many things change in the second part: the editing, how I approach the passing of time. The way my actors perform. I remember telling them to deliver their dialogues in a completely different manner – in the end, they turned them into something that’s almost Shakespearean. It’s not an entirely different film, the first part still echoes in the second, but I wanted to find another way of continuing this story. Or stories.

You play with a buddy movie trope as well, I felt. These men are connected, there is friendship or maybe some recognition between them. But their sadness is quite humorous at times.
I was thinking about these very first films, when all you had was a camera and some desire for slapstick [laughter]. It was a pleasure to play with that and choreograph these scenes, because I had to be quite precise. But that second part? It was like inviting the audience to a whole other journey. I hope that when this film ends, they will feel like they were right there, with these people, for 8 hours or so.

Now, in Cannes, I finally saw it with others and I could sense this shift. They were laughing at first, and then they allowed themselves to be transported someplace else. They became quiet. It made me so happy, because that was my main challenge: making sure they accept this sudden change. It seems to me that these days, cinema has turned into an industry, first and foremost, where so much focus is put on entertainment. But it should actually resemble music. It needs more freedom than we are usually given. This time, I felt free.

You show a world full of problems, poverty, yet absurdity hides around every corner. Like when they pick up guys dressed like superheroes or when they look for, well, some female company and no one is happy with the final outcome.
There are no good or bad guys here. You can laugh but you still feel a tad melancholic at every given moment. You can easily imagine all these little villages and towns, filled with losers. I say “losers,” but the truth is that I shot this film with so much love. I love these characters, love my actors. I even love this old car!

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