• Flash Competition


Samir Ramdani

The opening scene is worthy of a good old sci-fi blockbuster, a genre Samir Ramdani’s particularly fond of as we saw in La Cellule (FID2020). The director uses the same ingredients: the energy of what are known as “deprived” teenagers, methods and places proud of their meagre means, an electric soundtrack that drapes the sequences with an haute-couture Hollywood veil, and impeccable shots. The narrative is childishly simple: some teenagers have disappeared and Samir Ramdani as a lethargic cop and his boss Samira, played by Leyla Jawad, have to find them. The straightforward script is an opportunity to lay out the filmmaker’s directing to invest the potential of political fiction, with a mastery of situational comedy that’s beyond reproach. Like his previous films, Daw emanates a corrosive humour. Its quirkiness allows it to address France’s taboos and stereotypes about French people of Algerian origin. When Samira discusses the investigation’s progress on the phone with the chief of police, she surreptitiously slips into Arabic, and the film weaves between French and Arabic with acerbic glee. We should add that Samira is gay, and her ex-girlfriend a boxing instructor, and that Daw is overtly feminist and de-colonial. It’s also darker and more hard-hitting than the director’s earlier films. The particular pleasure here is for the children of immigrants, who don’t know the origin of the word “ratonnade” (racist attack) or anything about the police massacre of Algerians on 17th October 1961. Daw takes on the urgency of appropriating one’s heritage and the idea that “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it”.

Claire Lasolle

As for La Cellule, (2020), you rely on the codes of genre films to summon a historical and political event. What was your ambition with Daw? 

The project originally stemmed from an invitation delivered by Alessandra Prandin, the curator and director of the CAP (the Arts Center in Saint-Fons), who asked me to set up an exhibition in that space. I was aware that the Lyon region was home to one of the oldest and largest Algerian community in France. The industrial Rhône valley relied heavily on North African labour for its post-war reconstruction. I wished to celebrate the Algerian community by telling a fragment of its history. This resulted in the video installation « Noor ». Once the exhibition was over, I thought we should a make a film : so we had a second run of shooting, and a thorough postproduction process this time over. As for the pairing of genre flick and political discourse, I would call this the running theme throughout my work. 

The use of photographs extracted from historical archives brings a whole new dimension to the tale. How important were these images in the general storytelling process? 

The decision to include historical imagery in a formally whimsical film was not easily reached. These images serve as a window on the historical truth. The film is set in a form of fiction which sometimes, at various parts of its cathartic storytelling, hints at fragments of the actual tragedy. I feel that these photographs play a part in reasserting the political issue tackled in the film. 

You portray a police detective in the film. How did you come up with this cast, which is generally a remarkable questioning of social representations?

I make a point of subverting racial and gender stereotypes in the cast of all my films. It’s a crucial element of my aesthetic and political strategies. I do it primarily so that people like me can project themselves into any social position. I present minorities in positions of power, which isn’t a very common thing in contemporary France. In the film, both cops and the prefect are of Arab descent, and they speak Arabic to one another on the job.

The fantastical elements are rather simple in their nature : a blue light here, a sculpture there. How did you design this relation to fantasy?

My co-writer Alexis Bougon and myself were interested in pursuing a rather minimalistic aesthetic. Partly, we felt that this would help with matters of pure suspense ; but we also believe that it’s easier for one to project oneself into simple forms. Abstract forms are intriguing, and they can stimulate the imagination. The choice of using light as a representation for the spirits is a very symbolic one : as first-hand witnesses, these spirits carry the historical truth of October 17th, 1961 with them. And we designed the very sculptural blue entity as a living totem, a magic fountain, a transdimensional shrine.

How did you operate regarding matters of sound design?

The sound design and music are very intricate, so much so that it wasn’t always easy deciding whether a sound should fall under the competence of Deena Abdelwahed or Arno Ledoux (the film’s sound designer, sound editor et mixer). For instance, Deena was keen on composing a sound based on whispers to soundtrack the apparition of the light. They both made several versions of the tale’s different recurrent sounds, and we only made final decisions during the editing process.

What were your directions in regard to Deena Abdelwahed’s musical composition?

It was a simple direction : I wanted the music to be inspired by contemporary Arabic musical forms. Deena had a lot of leeway regarding the musical creation. After watching a sequence, she would make proposals and I only had to pick the tracks which resonated most with the plot’s emotional intention and our desire for the film to fit into the « fantastical thriller » identity.

Daw oscillates between different worlds. How did you differentiate between them?

Yes, there are two coexisting worlds and we needed this to be absolutely clear. There are a normal world and a second world parallel to the former, filmed in a dark and empty disused building. Soundwork served to accentuate the distinct atmosphere of this parallel world, and we recalibrated the colour grading of this part of the film to make it appear blue. 

How did you come up with the dance sequence, reminiscent of the choreographic works in your first films?

The original script featured a purely traditional dance. It’s only in the preparatory work for shooting that the choice of breakdancing as the dance of the dead became obvious. This is when we met Ali-Bey Ghenai, an original member of the breakdancing world champion Pokemon Crew. She’s the one who helped us with the cast. Alexis and I were interested in the anachronistic idea of showing the spirits of October 17th 1961 through the perspective of their young descendants.  

Daw serves as a bridge between two generations and two time periods. Did you wish to remind today’s youth of their history, and serve a purpose of historical remembrance and transmission ? 

Yes, it’s a simple genre short but it humbly attempts to celebrate our history and remind us of the humanity of those who took the streets to assert their dignity. And I think that’s much-needed in a contemporary context where the institutions are increasingly permeable to far-right ideology. When I was younger, I would’ve liked to see more movies like that. Us Arabs and Black youth living in the French projects didn’t have models to aspire to at that time. There is a heavy deficit in terms of self-love in the French projects. We’re taught to despise ourselves at school, in the media, in the streets. In my humble field of action, I do my best to counterbalance this state of affairs.

Interview conducted by Olivier Pierre

  • Flash Competition

Technical sheet

France / 2023 / 28’

Original version: Algerian Arabic, French
Subtitles: French
Script: Samir Ramdani, Alexis Bougon
Photography: Sylvie Petit
Editing: Samir Ramdani
Music: Deena Abdelwahed
Sound: Pascal Jacquet, Arno Ledoux

Production: Alexis Ramdani (Samsha films)

La Cellule, 2020
Superbe spectacle de l’amour, 2016
Styx, 2016
Black Diamond, 2014
Broken Leg, 2010