Sara Sadik

Against the sunset gazing at a calm sea, Zine talks about falling in love at first sight with Bulma. Sara Sadik continues her work on masculinity with Khtobtogne, a story of love and friendship between ‘brothers’. Zine confides in his friend, telling him his doubts and fears, his anger and aspirations. To spice up the story, the director manipulates the video game GTA, to create a Marseille of earthly paradise. Liberated from the constraints of reality and the camera, via digital techniques, Sara Sadik, opens up a world of possibilities and another space and time in which Zine can exist, come out and begin his own transformation in order to become « the best version of himself ».
(Louise Martin-Papasian)

Interview with Sara Sadik

In your film, Zine describes how he’s been transformed by his love for Bulma and that he wants to become “the best version of himself”. Where does this character come from and how did you write the voiceover?

Zine’s character was mostly inspired by Ahmed Ra’ad Al Hamid who I met on Instagram a year ago. We very quickly became friends and, among other things, he told me about his budding love affair. So I created Zine and wrote his lines based on Ahmed’s story, and those of Brian Chiappetta and Abdellah Majdoub who were added during the scriptwriting process. As well as these accounts, I also added extracts of lyrics that were declarations of love by rappers such as JuL, Ninho, MMZ and Alonzo, and quotations shared by teenagers on social media. Whether it’s his friendships or loves, his thoughts, his vulnerability, his inner struggles or his emotions, Zine is a distillation of the private and personal thoughts of several men I met in real life or virtually during the writing process.

You dramatise male characters with recognisable dress and language codes borrowed from popular culture, especially from the North African diaspora – starting with the film’s title “khtobtogone”. You tackle masculinity from the angle of love and friendship. Where did this title come from and what’s your artistic approach?
Khtobtogone is the title of a Snapchat video posted in January 2019 after a discussion between the rappers Booba and Kaaris about organising a combat, an “Octogon” between the two of them. In this parody borrowing, a young man sets a challenge for a “Khtob-togone”, in Arabic, “khtob” means asking for a woman’s hand. My work is always based on the testimonies and anecdotes of men or teenagers that I meet, and I use them to write fiction. So there’s always something documentary in each of my films, real, rich material that allows me to write stories about the different themes in them. Love, be it romantic, fraternal, friendly or family love, is one of the major themes, one that unfortunately is rarely addressed, which is why I decided to carry out this long-term project from this perspective.

“Sometimes I have the impression of being a body, an empty, dehumanised body.” This sentence seems to sum up the different forms of violence – social, racial – suffered by your film’s character. Is giving him a voice a way of responding to this violence?
The characters in my films, like the people who inspired them, come from places where they suffer from social and political violence, including dehumanisation, which affects their lives and their mental health, and has an impact on how they perceive themselves and their construction of the self, etc. I use my work as a place to verbalise the private feelings and emotions that are very rarely expressed because/therefore rarely heard and listened to. Using voiceovers enables me to shine a light on and express these inner and internalised thoughts for others to hear.

You created your film based on the video game Grand Theft Auto V (GTA), a particularly violent game, but you reconstruct idyllic landscapes whose dreaminess is backed up by the music, in marked contrast with the climate of the original game. Why did you choose this and how did you appropriate it?
The GTA V’s online version and cinematic mode give you great freedom in terms of personalising and directing, which you also find in the machinima based on the game. Khtobtogone is also a tribute to the fans that reproduce music videos of French rap using this technique. We used the mods[1] created and posted in open-source by other users, and Diego Grandry created new ones for my requirements for the script. I was able to integrate Zine’s character and elements that are part of his reality, his clothes and accessories, typically French cultural elements and symbols of the city of Marseille to give a documentary dimension. Using CGI[2] makes it more difficult to convey emotions. So it was important for me to choose landscapes that allowed me to reinforce Zine’s emotions at that moment, but also to play with the surroundings, the weather, the length of the shots, the composition of sometimes unreal scenes and actions, as well as the music composed by DJ13NRV that accompanies them.

This film was commissioned by the Centre National des Arts Plastiques (CNAP) in partnership with Triangle Astérides. Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
I’m currently in residence at LUMA Arles, where I’m working on a film project looking at young people’s role and position in the area and the history of the city of Arles. I’m also preparing my next solo show that’s opening on 11th September 2020 at the CAC Brétigny, taking another look at the entire Hlel Academy project, which includes Khtobtogone.

Interview by Louise Martin Papasian

[1] Mod: modification of an existing video game
[2] Computer Generated Imagery

Technical sheet

France, 16’ – Exhibition