An Interview with Maya Abdul-Malak (Director)
The Imagined Homeland
Q: The scenery in front of the shop, which appears over and over, seems to accumulate layers of meaning as the film goes on. What were your intentions as far as this shot goes, and with having the film play out within the bounded space of a shop?
MAM: By layering recitations of my father’s letters and that scene, I hoped to allow the story of Moustafa and the others resonate, across time, with my father’s story. They live in different eras, but essentially under the same conditions, in the same situations.
Also, even if the scene is here (in Paris), it exists at the same time over there (home, Algeria). In this film, through the bounded space of the shop, I wanted to deal with the extent to which that space shapes our existence. I actually have footage of Moustafa working, and of interviews, but in the end I didn’t use any of it. The reason for this is that the shop is the most important place. It’s a closed place, but many kinds of things are brought into it. I think that this place can narrate everything about how much we develop relationships with the places where we find ourselves.
Q: When Moustafa is going back to his hometown after fourteen years and he calls his mother, the strong evocation of the distance from his hometown—which is out of the frame—and the length of fourteen years, is striking.
MAM: I think that in that scene with Moustafa talking to his mother there is something that totally transcends that distance, that space, and it’s almost as if she is right there. For immigrants like us the question of where we are, and how we are to inscribe ourselves in that place, is always an important one. They are in Paris, but that is only a temporary thing, or at least they think so. In other words, they’re waiting for when it’s time to go home. And yet they don’t go home, so in this sense their homeland becomes a dream space inside their heads, an image. This is also present in what Moustafa says on the phone at the end: “I feel like I’ve somehow come to a standstill.” The reason I ended the film with Moustafa coming back to Paris was to give the impression that it’s repeating, that he’d come back and now it’s starting over again. In the film I wanted to capture fourteen years of immigrant life, this period of waiting for something.
Q: Starting with the particular rhythm of the recitation of the letters, the film itself felt very musical.
MAM: The difficult thing at the editing stage was to maintain that rhythm, so that it wouldn’t be boring. In the letters that are being recited there is a certain kind of temporality that mirrors the temporality of their lives as immigrants, which as I’ve said is a repetition of the same things, of waiting for something. It was tough to convey a sense of repetition without making the viewer think: “oh not again.”
The sounds of the city and of the cars create an urban music. As for the voice reading the letters, I aimed to make it blend in with the city. To have it all mixed in together was very important, and the reason for this is that each person there is someone who has brought their own homeland to this faraway country, making this neither here nor there, but rather a third place where each of these is mixed together. The invisible, out of frame, absent homeland is brought in through sound.
(Compiled by Miyata Mariko)
Interviewers: Miyata Mariko, Kawashima Shoichiro / Interpreter: Fujiwara Toshi / Translator: Tyler Walker
Photography: Suzuki Moyu / Video: Takahashi Asuka / 2015-10-10