Dinner with Roujoula
What inspired you to make Roujoula?
Casablanca, the city where I grew up, the city where young college graduates move into the street to work. I was looking for a DVD from an itinerant salesman who wasn’t from my neighborhood. As I became lost in his classification system, he said to me naturally:
“This is the stories row.”
Me: “What stories?”
Him: “True stories, love stories… you know, stories!”
And there it was. I had a character, and I needed a story.
I started imagining a chronicle around a salesman, where the DVD would bring about the exchange, acting as a pretext to indirectly reveal an entire Casablancan society, and what remains of its connection to cinema. The relationship with the brother came later as the writing process evolved and became the main focus.
What connection do you have with pirated DVD salesmen?
It was my film library, my film club. I belong to the generation deprived of movie theaters, who saw the “Moul DVD” (DVD salesman) on every street corner and in the souks. Redouane sold pirated DVDs in my neighborhood, two steps away from an abandoned colonial movie theater… Among the indifferent passer-bys, he looked like a fairground entertainer in front of an attraction from another age, as if the cinema, having deserted its theaters, no longer existed except in the fluorescent sleeves of the blockbusters he sold. I always liked it when he gave a sales pitch for a film that he hadn’t even seen. For lots of people, he was the official film critic, a sort of AlloCiné all to himself.
What was it that interested you in the relationship between the two brothers and their connection to their father?
Morocco is a great brotherhood, but it is always better to be the big brother. We all call each other “my brother” or “my son”, but the abuses in the balances of power still exist despite this. This is the story of a younger brother who takes revenge on the older brother in a duel that we would rather have avoided altogether. The Eid al-Adha version of the Cain and Abel story. Imad makes his little brother face the challenges of life in the street in an attempt to strip him of his illusions as a diligent student. It is as if his little brother’s success threatens his position as elder brother and contradicts the social fatalism that he invokes to justify his actions and make himself feel better. Deep down, it is Imad unloading on Faycal a part of the social pressure (and in particular pressure from the father) that is weighing him down. Also, I wanted the viewer to feel that complexity and tragi-comic ambiguity comprised of small humiliations and guilt.
Do you have any plans to make other films focused on family relationships?
I don’t know. What interests me beyond the family, but which is absolutely the case within families, is the idea that there is a certain fatality in our emotional bonds. How to be oneself among others. It is quite a common dilemma in Morocco, where individuality often rhymes with solitude or transgression. In a way, to be different means betraying one’s own.
How important is it to sacrifice a lamb during the Eid al-Adha in Morocco?
I imagined Roujoula the day before Aïd El Kebir (feast of the sacrifice or feast of the lamb) because this feast reminds of or determines who is the head of the household : the man who buys the lamb and kill it… Double sentence for Imad. It is a way to demonstrate one’s faith but also to ostentatiously affirm one’s social health. Not buying a lamb is a blow to one’s dignity. That’s why even if each person is supposed to act based on what they have, most families bleed themselves dry to come up with the means. There are even loans offered for this. There are advertisements everywhere. The pressure is intense.
Are you interested in the theme of personal freedom, and do you have any projects in the works based on this theme?
I don’t really work based on themes, but more with a desire to film people in significant places that are rich with possibility. I think that my first two films have the common theme of youth who never knew the colonial era but continue to be subjected to models that come from elsewhere and that represent the only promises of freedom. So, yes, freedom, the idea to elude predetermined paths gives rise to fiction, to hope. And with a bit of humor, it is the best way that I know of to get past the first degree of idleness, the sociological statement.
Did you write Roujoula as a story in itself or as part of a broader story? What sort of freedom would you say the short format allows?
I wrote Roujoula as a story in itself, but it would be interesting to imagine what happens next… The short film format is subject to less pressure from a market that stereotypes everything. It stimulates a desire to experiment and can still be a fragile and impure space, as long as a mercilessly tender look can be shared and take us by surprise. For me, outside of the usual short format limits (time and small budget), I felt no pressure and I was able to rely on the kindness of my producer, Saïd Hamich, who made it possible to shoot this film in the best of conditions. I hope to continue like this, taking risks and improvising, as has been the case for my previous films.
If you’ve already been to Clermont-Ferrand, could you share with us an anecdote or story from the festival? If not, what are your expectations for this year?
I’ve never been before, but my friend Lorenzo Bianchi presented his film Le Petit here last year. I co-wrote this film with him and have wonderful memories of shooting the film in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. I hope that Roujoula will make some friends!