News 2013

Interview with Abdellah Taïa, director of L’Armée du salut (Salvation Army)

Giulia Ghigi Who was Abdellah Taïa before becoming a director?

Abdellah Taïa I was a writer. And I am still a writer. I published eight books in France, written in French language. Some of them are translated into other languages (and published in USA, Italy, Germany, and other countries). Salvation Army was first a novel.

GG Why did you choose this story for your debut film?

AT Actually, I did not choose. A French producer, Claude Kunetz, read it and contacted me. He said that I should make a film with this story. I was not very excited by this idea at first. It took me two years to forget about this book and reinvent it into a film, a cinematographic project. This is what is most important: the images you see, you want to make them, in order to tell something, a story, fragments of a story.

GG Why did you choose film, beside literature, as a medium for your artistic expression?

AT Cinema is my big obsession. Cinema is life for me. Cinema saved me when I was a poor teneeger in Morocco. The Egyptian movies, that I watched a lot on Moroccan TV at that time, were like a promised land for me. A voice. The way to follow. Freedom. I wanted to be part of these images. I wanted to put myself and my reality inside these films. I never chose cinema: I found myself one day totally drown into it. My way of thinking (even in a very naïve way) is so much influenced by films, the Arab films. My books are full of movies.

GG How was the experience on the set on a feature-length film? (Most satisfying and more difficult moment?)

AT It was very intense, very difficult. Very hard. War. And, at the same time, it was somehow spiritual. Cinema deals with the invisible. And this is something you cannot get easily during the shooting. I was tired and happy. I was both a dictator and a mother with my crew. And, of course, I want to continue making movies…

GG The film is based on your own autobiographical novel L’Armée du salut. How was the work of adaptation for the script?

AT I cannot answer this question. I did not read again the book. I just focused on the bottom line: the itinerary of a young homosexual Moroccan within his neighborhood in Casablanca and his family. I tried to find new images, new scenes not written in the book. And, most important, I tried to find the right way to tell all this without too many dialogues.

GG The film was shot in Morocco:  did you have any problems during the shooting?

AT Just a week before the shooting, islamists students organized a manifestation against a conference about my books that had to be held at the University of El-Jadida: they did not allow the professor to deliver his speech.  The Moroccan media talked a lot about it. So, I guess, you can easily imagine the impact of this fact on the shooting. On me… Although you can see it everywhere, homosexuality is not very welcome in Morocco.

GG Why did you choose Agnès Godard as a cinematographer ?

AT Because I am in love with her images in Claire Denis’s film Nénette et Boni. I saw it in Morocco when I was 18. And, since then, I had the dream to work with her one day. I am very lucky she accepted to follow me in Morocco and to help me reinvent my personal images. She is a great woman and a great artist.