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TORONTO 2023 Platform

Nora El Hourch • Director of Sisterhood

"I wanted to describe these young people who fight adult battles with children’s weapons"


- The French-Moroccan director explained the highly personal origin of her debut feature film, which is a psychological thriller navigating the grey zones of friendship and consent

Nora El Hourch  • Director of Sisterhood
(© Julien Antunes)

Unveiled in the 48th Toronto Film Festival’s Platform competition, Sisterhood [+see also:
film review
interview: Nora El Hourch
film profile
is the first feature film by French-Moroccan director Nora El Hourch.

Cineuropa: What motivated you to explore the friendship between three teens and combine it with the question of consent?
Nora El Hourch: It’s primarily a film about friendship, because when you’re 15 years old, you think you’ll be friends for life and that nothing can rock your friendship. But I also wanted to look at dual culture. My father is Moroccan, my mother is French, so I was born into two different cultures, and I’ve tried as best as I can to keep a foot in each camp. I’ve also been the victim of a sexual assault, hence the themes of consent and MeToo.  I’m comfortable talking about it, but I noticed that people’s response differs depending on where I am at the time. I wanted to drill down into this aspect of the subtleties of life: how fights can be fought differently depending on the social background you’ve evolved in and how you think. I decided to combine these subjects which are so important to me.

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How would you describe your three main characters, Amina, Djeneba and Zineb?
They’re three of my many different sides. Amina’s life is a little like mine: a comfortable background, dual culture, a father who did everything to make his daughter fully French and not display any Moroccan origins. And when I first started school I had friends from housing estates, like in the film. But I’ve also got a little bit of Zineb in me, a naive side, which suffered an assault, as well as some of Djeneba’s pit-bull personality. The character of Amina was developed to be contradictory. She has an Arab-sounding name and surname, she’s growing up in a school where children predominantly hail from an immigration background, but she’s expected to be fully French. That’s what leads to her losing herself, because she wants to "market" herself as an Arab to her friends; she wants to blend into the background, because, at that age, you want to go unnoticed. But there’s an irony in all that: it’s what she wants to be but her condition leads her back to being someone else, mainly because of her convictions. She wants to save her friends, but with the weapons born out of her education, which aren’t the same as Djeneba and Zineb’s. The way Amina thinks and acts will create a divide and highlight something which the three of them had always denied: the difference between them is real.

How were you looking to broach the topic of denouncing sexual assault? 
That kind of violence can take place in all social contexts. That’s why Zach’s character is so nuanced. He’s growing up in a grey zone: he doesn’t have any parents, his life is violent and what he’s actually doing is reproducing human relations with his own codes. The three friends ask themselves questions which I also ask myself and that’s why they’re 15. I wanted to describe these young people who are projected into an adult world, who fight adult battles with only children’s weapons. No-one is pure, we’re all full of contradictions and complexities. All the many nuances around the question of consent are questions that I also ask myself. To what extent are attackers aware of what they’re doing? It’s all far more complicated than you’d think and that’s what I tried to convey. The film has a violent side because I wanted to approach it a bit like a psychological thriller, which gains momentum. The three friends are caught in their own spiral. They try to fight in their own way, with their own weapons, which are mainly social networks these days. But they’re babies, children; they don’t have any real understanding of what they’re doing, because everything is far more complicated than posting a video online to point the finger at someone.

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(Translated from French)

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