In your own words the film is a continuation of a “playful” genre film. Could you explain what you understand under this term to mean? I was always interested in genre but I’m not a classical filmmaker and I never do things in a classical way. I make films in my own style, with a lot of freedom and I’m creating stories that aren’t simple or straightforward. My stories and my characters are complex. I’m also filming in parts of the world where the situation is not easy, today more than before. Taking all the changes into consideration that came with Arab Spring, the Arab world and the Third World generally is now in a difficult state. So if we want to talk about society, we can’t talk in a simple manner, depict simple stories, it’s rather impossible. When I’m making a film, I think about this complex reality and the film narratives and I realize they have to be complex, too. It, however, doesn’t mean that I create such a cinematic language that nobody in the world will understand. I make cinema that attempts at mirroring our society, but which is also playing with codes, genres and is looking for a complex language because of the complexity of reality itself. So I think my films are like this reality - impossible to be simple.
One of the genres we can spot in Death for Sale is the genre of film noir. Why did you decide for this genre among the others? Firstly, I really like film noir. It’s a tragic genre depicting strong destinies and strong characters. And it has a fair view of society. I like it for these two reasons: it’s affinity to become a tragedy and at the same time it’s proximity to popular cinema.
Film noir can be, however, very stereotypical of female characters. For instance, one might perceive the character of Dounia, portrayed as a prostitute and traitor, as misogynistic. My view of Dounia is that she is actually really in love with Malik. When she cries in the film and tells him she loves him, she is not lying, it’s all true. But what makes her cruel as a person is the reality surrounding her. Dounia comes from a difficult life situation. At the end of the film, her nature to survive, to help herself, overcomes everything else. Her love for Malik is not only a glitter but at the same time it’s Malik’s fault because he doesn’t stand behind her. He is not strong enough, he doesn’t represent what she wants to see in him. I don’t think Dounia is a typical film noir femme fatale. She makes decisions that aren’t selfish, she supports Malik. In my films no character is bad or good, there are all shades of grey. I don’t judge my characters and for me they are all human; they are capable to be angels and they are capable to be devils. Malik or Soufiane, Alal or Dounia are the results of society they are coming from and this determines their deeds. Each one of them knows what life means.
Your role in the film is a role of a corrupt police officer. And he is really evil… Sometimes the characters become independent of the writer but because I portray him also as an actor, I can probably talk more about him than the other characters. He is actually a very sad guy and he is always drunk. But why? What’s happening in his life? When he is in the van with Dounia and Malik, he asks Malik to kiss Dounia. Why does he do that? He is lonely, sad and bitter. Yes, on the one hand, he is the most evil character in the film. On the other hand, he is doing his job, surely wrong in some ways, but he is doing it. It’s the same as playing Richard III, you have to understand him to play him. I’m talking now as an actor and as an actor I understand him. As a director, I see his faults, his lust, his corruption, things that are wrong in this society.
All in all, the characters in the film end up badly. Is there no hope in the future for personal relationships (of any kind)? Is this how you view the world/or the situation in Morocco concretely? Maybe it’s my age - I’m at the verge of my forties, maybe it’s about my disillusionment with humanity. After making the film, I realized it’s one of my saddest, most noir movies, it is full of despair. We are living in a cruel world now, and we are not happy about what’s happening around us. Sure, I’m touched, I’m influenced, but how are we going to talk about this period in twenty years? The film mirrors this situation around us and not just in Morocco, I would say it is pretty general.
So if the film was shot in France, would it be the same? No, absolutely not. And if one works in a certain genre, for instance in film noir, it’s interesting to shoot the film in a country like Morocco. If I did it in France, I’m sure things would change but if I did this film in suburbs in France, it would be in a way similar. The film would be cruel in the same way also in other places on the margin, whether they are in Paris, Casablanca or Cairo.
Do you define yourself as actor-director? Why do you act in your films? I did theatre for ten years and I never acted. I thought it was impossible to be on the stage and at the same time to direct other actors. I played in other films and shows of other directors but not in my own. In my first film, A Thousand Months, I played a small character, just for a couple of days. And I discovered something; when you act it’s like playing music, it’s like being in an orchestra; you are playing your violin but you can also direct others. More than being behind the camera, you are playing the music with the others. And you feel when the energy’s good and you feel when it’s bad and you feel it more intensively than behind the camera. I realized I could better understand the acting of other actors and give them more precise directions. It’s just a little bit more work, however, for me filmmaking is actually a children’s play. I’m lucky that it is also my job.
Faouzi Bensaidi was born in Meknes, Morocco. He has worked as an actor, writer and director on stage and in the cinema and has directed the feature films A Thousand Months (2003), WWW. What a Wonderful World (2006) and Death For Sale (2011).