Q&A: Rachid Bouchareb


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Writer-director-producer Rachid Bouchareb shot to international prominence with "Days of Glory," his fifth feature film as director. The World War II epic about the frontline role played by North African soldiers scooped the best actor honors at the Festival de Cannes in 2006 for its collective male cast, before going on to considerable boxoffice success at home and abroad. The Oscar-nominated director has now turned his attention to a more intimate subject -- the parallel searches of a middle-aged man and woman from very different backgrounds for their respective children, both missing in wake of the London public transport bombings of July 7, 2005. The film stars Oscar-nominated British actress Brenda Blethyn and Mali-born actor Sotigui Kouyate. The film marks a return to Berlin for Bouchareb, who brought his New York City-set immigrant tale "Little Senegal" -- also starring Kouyate -- to Berlin in 2001, and his short "Le Villain Petit Poussin" in 2004. He talks to The Hollywood Reporter's Charles Masters.

The Hollywood Reporter: Why did you want to make a story set against the backdrop of the 2005 London bombings?

Rachid Bouchareb: I think any event like that, wherever it happens in the world -- in Madrid, London, Algiers, Casablanca or anywhere else -- affects all of us more or less. Perhaps some of us pay more attention to such events. In any case, it touched me. What interested me most was that in an attack like that, with dozens of dead, you will find among the victims a Muslim, a Christian, maybe a Buddhist, and people of all kinds of nationalities.

THR: How did you approach the subject?

Bouchareb: I didn't want to make a film about terrorism directly. That exists around us every day on the news. We see enough about it already. So I wanted to tell the story of a Muslim who leaves the country where he lives, in this case France, to search for his son from whom he had no news since the events in London. And then there's an Englishwoman who lives on the island of Guernsey, who has no news of her daughter. The film tells the story of these two parents who travel to London and their paths cross. They are faced with the barriers of language, of their different cultures, different religions. But they are forced to discover each other, and to help each other, even if they also reject each other at some points.

THR: The project started out as a film for television. How did it migrate to the big screen?

Bouchareb: The film is a co-production between our French company, Tessalit, my Algerian company, Tasseli, and U.K. company the Bureau, and was originally for (Franco-German cultural broadcaster) Arte. France 3 and the CNC also have participated. Somewhere along the way, we thought the project had the potential for a theatrical release.

THR: How did the casting come about?

Bouchareb: I always thought it would be Brenda Blethyn in the female lead, even if I had to wait a long time. And I always thought it would be Sotigui opposite her. If I couldn't have them, I wouldn't have made the film. I sent her the script and she said yes, but that she couldn't do it for a year. So we waited.

THR: How did they work together onscreen?

Bouchareb: Brenda is totally exceptional, as is Sotigui. But given that Brenda has so many awards and two Oscar nominations behind her, our hope for this film is to take her into the running again for a best actress Oscar nomination. She could win it, her work here is so magnificent. When you see the film you'll understand why I say that. So I hope a U.S. distributor will carry the film forward, because Brenda already has a strong reputation in the industry over there. Our idea is for the film to roll out in lots of international territories, including of course the U.K. and the U.S. My film also will represent Algeria in the foreign-language Oscar category.

THR: Tell me about the shoot.

Bouchareb: We shot the film in 22 days, mainly in London. It was a small crew, which meant we had great freedom technically. I was on the jury of the Festival de Cannes last year, and I left for the shoot two days after that ended. I was in a state of total serenity after Cannes, and I think that carried over to the shoot and really helped.

THR: How was that Cannes jury experience, under the presidency of Sean Penn?

Bouchareb: It was a great experience. The deliberations were as open and democratic as can be, which is what Sean Penn said he wanted from the outset.

THR: Was it difficult to direct a film that is largely in English, which is not a language you're fluent in?

Bouchareb: It really makes no difference to me. I have directed actors in many different languages before, including English, and it's never been a problem. I think on set the language of cinema is universal.

THR: What are you doing next?

Bouchareb: I will start shooting on "Hors la loi" (The Outlaws) in July, which is the follow-up to "Days of Glory." The first film took us up to 1945; the second one covers 1945-1960 and the Algerian War of Independence. It starts with the massacre in Setif (Algeria), and will encompass Indochina and the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu. It's based around three brothers, one of whom is more politically active than the others. ("Days of Glory" stars) Sami Bouajila, Roschdy Zem and Bernard Blancan have already signed on, with the other cast in talks. We will shoot in France, Germany, Belgium, Tunisia and a few days in New York for the U.N. building. We have our sights firmly set on Cannes 2010 for the film's premiere. Beyond that, I have a trilogy of films, each based around the clash between an American character and one from the Arab world. The most advanced of these is "The Fixer," about an American woman journalist in the second Iraq War and her Iraqi woman fixer, for which the script is nearly finished.

THR: And whatever happened to your announced project for a Bob Marley biopic?

Bouchareb: That's fallen through. There were too many complications with the musical rights.