Ala Eddine Slim: “In Tunisia, the army remains this hidden monster”

Born in Sousse thirty-seven years ago, a consumer mainly of ninja or Jean-Claude Van Damme films on VHS when he was a teenager, Ala Eddine Slim came to the cinema discovering, being electrified, The Sunchaser of Michael Cimino on TV, “One Thursday evening after Correspondent“. For ten years, he has formed with a nucleus of friends a kind of collective around his company Exit Productions, which allows him “To learn to do by doing” and of “Tinkering, accompanying, more than producing, in the sense that most producers are managers, more imaginative in marketing than in creation. The main thing for me is to have my freedom to change and adapt in each production. ” A few years ago, he reviewed Cimino’s film. “It didn’t have the same effect on me, but I don’t care.”

“Lots of joints”

“I work on my fantasies, in total freedom, so that all sorts of things mix outside of any logic of writing, at least that which presides over most of the films that we see today. I wanted to work in a territory rich in possibilities that I could follow all of them, whether they lead me to contemporary facts or to mythological elements. This film therefore comes from islets of ideas and desires that I try to collect.

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“Besides, I smoke a lot of joints when I write and when I shoot … Some things connect the film to my previous one [et premier] feature film, The Last of Us. I went back to the same place: I like the idea that any story can be seen from several angles. There is also this soldier figure which comes from one of my first courts. At the end, the character left the city in a bus where there was a clown, a police officer and a soldier, that is to say the three pillars of Tunisia: the clown who presides, the police force which is the hand of the President, and the soldier which is the body that carries it all. I wanted to return to the latter to discuss the place of the soldier in society. I travel the country a lot by car and I often take soldiers on hitchhiking, with whom I speak on the road. In the Tunisian imagination, the army holds a place of protective figure, very close to the people, because it has never intervened in any political scheme. But it seemed to me that the soldiers were the first to be sacrificed, because they are the ones who confront terrorism, and at the same time they find it difficult to return home. ”

“Neither religious nor mystical”

“In Tunisia, there are two very sensitive subjects, not taboo but risky, likely to provoke very violent reactions: the army and religion. It’s not like Algeria or Egypt, where the army is in command. In Tunisia, after independence, the first presidents made the country more of a police than a military state, and under Ben Ali the army was weakened to the benefit of the police. But it remains this hidden monster that can come from afar and pull the whole country down. For example, I have some reservations about the famous war on terror. I do not deny that there is a threat, but I think that it is inflated, disproportionate, so that in the name of this war we sweep all human rights: we kill people, we card them, there are sudden deaths during interrogation… It is like the disproportionate reaction of the police against the demonstrators and the yellow vests in France.

“But the film, like its protagonist, starts from this to move away from it, sweep everything away from the military postulate and lead the other character into an absolute desertion. And the film, which confronts religious elements in the second part (Adam, Eve, the serpent …), is not an attack on these two monsters that are the army and religion. It is a reading, a vision. Me, I am neither religious nor mystical, and I did not specially think of that consciously, even if I knew the range of the signs: for me, it was very natural presences in territories such as that crossed by the characters in the second part of the film. A territory which one can say is supernatural, but for me this forest is a natural place, complementary to the sceneries of the first part, a place which brings its own laws of functioning of relationships and existence. “

“Society full of unnecessary noise”

“With each film, I try to find a non-verbal means of communication. I had written dialogues but I knew they would not be spoken by the actors. Right before the shooting, I had this idea of ​​field-backlit exchanges with the eyes. As a filmmaker, I try to blur the vision and I said to myself: why not go to the physical source of the gaze? Since information had to be conveyed all the same, I tried to write directly on the image. Until then, I preferred not to work with dialogues, I had a little by chance difficulties on my first short film and since I said to myself: why not try to advance without that?

“Besides, I’m not someone who talks a lot, I don’t love that. I try in each film to experiment with methods, processes, cinema, that’s it, DIY, research like in a lab. And that suits the trajectory of my characters, who are fleeing from codes, a society which speaks to them, full of unnecessary noise. They go elsewhere and meet by look, the first foundation of any contact between two people. It joins the movement of the film which is that of a return to the primary elements, to the primitive. We are going back to the beginning of everything, but it is not about making the same trip. It’s not at all nostalgic. It’s more like shaving everything down and trying to go somewhere else. ”

Julien Gester


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