We sat down with Houda Benyamina, the director of Divines…
How did Divines come about?
There’s been a before and after May ’68. There were big strikes in France, and a big social movement that brought about change. In 2005 we had similar anger, we had big riots, but for some reason nothing changed afterwards. We didn’t have these intellectuals, these artists that took this anger and made something out of it and brought about change. So I wanted to explore this anger, frustration and injustice that lots of young people were feeling through the prism of a story of friendship of these two characters. I wanted to also explore the internal battle between the inner life of the characters and the wider world. And destiny as well. Ultimately the film is asking questions, I’m not trying to send a message.
The film’s ending felt like it had a real moral to it. Do you agree?
You’re right but what I really wanted to avoid was having a mannequin world view where on the one side we have evil which is money and drugs and on the other we have dancing and art. I’m not condemning money or drugs. In some countries like Amsterdam you can sell drugs and it’s a perfectly legal business. That’s not the point. It’s much more a story of not only friendship but of personal choice. To show how personal, intimate choices and decisions lead you onto a certain path. This is why I call it a modern tragedy, in the form of the old Greek tragedies where decisions you make progressively lead you down a path to a fatal end. It’s much more of a spiritual, sacred story. The character Maimouna, there’s something Christ-like about her, in her sacrifice.
A very important thing also is humiliation, the humiliation felt by the characters. That’s what leads them to make choices, to commit theft. Even small theft leads to bigger, more dangerous theft, and it’s humiliation that’s at the heart of it.
“Ultimately the film is asking questions, I’m not trying to send a message.”
What were your filmmaking influences?
A lot of movies, a lot of directors. Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Pasolini, Tarkovsky, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Before the Nouvelle Vague, it was the Free Cinema, that was born here in England.
How did you build the central mother-daughter relationship?
The character of Dounia was really created in opposition to the character of the mother. Where the mother is very sensitive, very open and feminine, Dounia is much more closed on herself, more tough and reserved. Also Dounia is a bastard, or hasn’t been recognised by her father, and the mother is a symbol of all that. In a way Rebecca can be seen as a substitute mother for Dounia because she’s the one who gives her confidence in herself, and shows her love.
How did you cast it?
Long casting. Very loooooong casting. *laughs*
There’s a fair bit of interpretive dance in the film. Where did the idea to include this come from?
Because at the beginning, there is movement. Before you learn speech, you learn walking, and movement. Dance is the beginning of art. And dance cannot lie. There is no verb. That is the reason. You can disagree.