First nominated Tunisian function examines freedom, id

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When Tunisian writer-director Kaouther Ben Hania first noticed a retrospective of Belgian artist Wim Delvoye on the Louvre in 2012, it sparked many concepts in her head. She was particularly impressed by one of many displays, a dwell shirtless man whose again was tattooed by the artist.

“It was fairly a controversial piece, and this daring picture stayed with me,” Ben Hania says throughout a latest Zoom interview from Paris. “I believed it was a superb start line for me to discover problems with id, artwork and freedom. I requested myself, ‘What if this individual had been a Syrian refugee and needed to make this Faustian cut price to dwell in Europe?’”

Greater than eight years later, the results of Ben Hania’s musings is the Oscar-nominated function “The Man Who Offered His Pores and skin,” which tells the story of a Syrian refugee (portrayed by newcomer Yahya Mahayni) whose physique turns into a valuable artwork piece. Final week’s nomination of the movie, which additionally stars Italian actress Monica Bellucci and Belgian actor Koen De Bouw, within the worldwide function class is a primary for Tunisia.

The director says that whereas researching her film, she was struck by how totally different behind-the-scenes gamers work collectively to lift the value of an artist. “It’s virtually a cliché in cinema to painting artists as misunderstood and tortured souls like Van Gogh who dwell within the margins of society,” says Ben Hania. “However artwork and energy have at all times been linked all through historical past.”

One of many movie’s secret weapons is the resonant efficiency by Mahayni, who received the most effective actor prize on the Venice Movie Pageant final yr. Ben Hania says it was vital for her to forged a Syrian actor within the position. “We did a web based casting name and requested for taped auditions from Syrians from all around the world,” she recollects. “I wasn’t having any luck at first, however sooner or later I acquired Yahya’s audition, and I knew it was him. He was good, regardless that he’s not an expert actor and is, in truth, a lawyer. I assume the 2 jobs aren’t that totally different!”

The film, which value about $2.5 million to make, was shot in Tunis, Marseille and Brussels in 32 days. “I’m used to working with small budgets, however financing the film felt like fixing a Chinese language puzzle,” says Ben Hania. Audiences could also be shocked to study that one of many movie’s key settings — the fine-arts museum in Brussels — was truly shot in Tunisia.

“We needed to make it seem like the museum, however we shot it in an outdated deserted constructing in a small village with sheep roaming outdoors,” she says. “It was a problem to make it seem like a prestigious artwork place. However that’s the magic of cinema. Conceiving the art work within the film additionally gave me a whole lot of pleasure, but it surely was additionally very worrying.”

Ben Hania was each thrilled and shocked to seek out out that her film is a contender within the Oscar race this yr. “It’s the primary nomination for Tunisia, and I’m representing Africa and all of the Arab nations, so I really feel an enormous accountability. I’m very hopeful and may see that issues are altering for the higher. It’s widespread at this time to listen to the speeches about range within the media and the brand new alternatives for ladies and folks of coloration, however when it comes right down to financing and cash, folks nonetheless query your talents. So it’s a must to work twice as arduous with a smaller funds.”

Ben Hania grew up in Sidi Bouzid, a small city within the middle of Tunisia. Her love for cinema started with Egyptian melodramas and Bollywood movies. “I beloved the spectacular colours and the enjoyment in these Bollywood films, which I used to take pleasure in on VHS tape,” she recollects. “They felt like heaven to me. Then sooner or later, the shop didn’t have any movies that I hadn’t seen earlier than, so the clerk instructed me I ought to hire Brian De Palma’s ‘Carrie.’ I used to be shocked, as a result of I may actually relate to the principle character — not the supernatural parts, after all — however as a result of she was my age and was residing on this small city with a really non secular mom. It sparked one thing in me, and after that, I began to observe all the flicks by De Palma, Scorsese, Coppola and that complete technology of filmmakers.”

Though she has been residing in Paris for the final 12 years, Ben Hania may be very happy with the thriving group of feminine filmmakers in her nation. “We’re a small group, however Tunisia is a small nation. Once I go searching me, I’m happy with the feminine illustration,” she says. “Once I came upon that movie was nominated for an Academy Award, it appeared loopy to me, because the Oscar at all times appeared so distant and out of attain. I’m so completely happy to supply this excellent news to Tunisia, as a result of occasions are very arduous there, and many individuals are very depressed.”

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