Sex Strike Film Introduces New Faces to Cannes (Cannes 2011)

Cannes Film Festival
"The Source"

The cast of "The Source" will join France-residing Romanian director Radu Maihaileanu on the red carpet Saturday.

CANNES -- On Saturday, several women will walk the Cannes red carpet steps. Some are young, some much older. They’re not wearing designer dresses or high heeled-shoes. No one in the crowd knows their names, but as soon as the Palais theater lights go down, they become stars.

Director Radu Mihaileanu will join the cast of his Competition title The Source alongside more than a dozen women from Warielt, the small Moroccan village where the film was shot, on the Cannes red carpet to present the film to the world for the first time.

The Source takes place in a fictional village somewhere between North Africa and the Middle East where women fetch water from the top of a mountain under the scorching sun. One day, a young woman urges the women to launch a “love strike,” namely a boycott on sex and affection until the men start running water into the village. The film stars a trio of France’s most promising young actresses Hafsia Herzi, Leila Bekhti and Sabrina Ouazani.

The battle of the sexes blends comedy and drama in a story about identity and a female-driven response to oppression.  

Mihaileanu knows a thing or two about oppression. Born in Bucharest to a WWII concentration camp survivor and a book publisher, Mihaileanu emigrated to Paris in 1980 to escape the Ceausescu dictatorship. Ever since, he’s become one of French cinema’s most beloved directors and his films have been global hits including Train of Life, Live and Become and The Concert.

As he often is, Mihaileanu was inspired by a true story, namely a human interest story in French newspaper Liberation about women who went on a “love strike” in a small Turkish village so that the men would go fetch water from the mountains. “I knew there was a movie there based on this idea that things can happen in the world because of women,” the director said. Mihaileanu also spent a great deal of time traveling in the Maghreb countries. “I spoke with women of all ages and that inspired me.”

Mihaileanu’s cast members spent a month on set and spent days living in the village learning the jobs of the real villagers. “There was a profound exchange between them,” the director said. So profound that one of the crew members ended up marrying one of the village women after shooting wrapped.

“In the beginning, the women were more shy, then slowly, they all relaxed and built up confidence,” Mihaileanu said. “Things happened naturally.”

The Franco-Moroccan-Italian-Belgian production from the France-residing Romanian director may be a hodgepodge of filmmaking cultures, but the film enters the competition as a Moroccan title. Cultural identity is a ubiquitous theme in Mihaileanu’s films from Jews dressing as Nazis in 1998’s Train of Life to an Ethiopian Christian boy who disguises himself as a Jew in 2005 title Live and Become to a Bolshoi conductor trying to regain his identity in 2009 film The Concert.

In the Source, Mihaileanu explores female identity and Arab culture identity in today’s modern world. The director looks at what it means to be a woman today, how women are seen by men and also what it means to be Arab and Muslim in the modern world.

“The movie definitely has a point of view,” he said. “All people are beautiful, you just need to look at them in the right way. Seeing these beautiful women walk the red carpet in Cannes will be a way of saying ‘stop stigmatizing people around you.’ I hope that will make the Muslim community more comfortable in France and guide society in a new direction.”

The fact that the film will screen in Cannes and these villagers will be on the French Riviera is all the more meaningful in a country where religious tolerance for the Muslim community has been a hot political topic in recent years. However, Mihaileanu said, “Beyond the political interpretations, it’s above all, a love story. I hope that people all over the world like love stories and like to cry and to laugh, even if they learn a thing or two about culture in the process.”

These women didn’t even have water in their village until four years ago and now they’ll be rubbing elbows with Hollywood’s finest on the Palais red carpet steps. “Most of them have never even left their village, even to travel 40 meters to a nearby village. It will be fantastic to continue the adventure together,” Mihaileanu said. “We’re not doing this to be extravagant. It’s just a way to thank them and to put them in the spotlight, not us.”

Like the villagers joining him on the red carpet, this, too, will be Mihaileanu’s first time in the Cannes Competition. “Of course, there’s a risk that the film won’t please everyone, but who doesn’t dream of at least once in his life having a film shown in Cannes to screen in the biggest theater in the world? To walk up the red carpet with the village women, friends, family, my producers and my actresses will be unforgettable,” he said.

Mihaileanu predicts that the villagers will be sure to attend in their most festive garb, usually reserved for weddings or celebratory occasions.  Most of all, he said: “I think they’re happy that we didn’t forget them.”