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Interview with Corine Shawi - Journal du FID 2013

lundi 19 mai 2014

You’ve already made several films, including the feature length Les femmes bonnes in 2006. Could you tell us about the genesis of this project constructed around several young Lebanese women?

Your question brings up the idea of a trilogy I wanted to make when I was an audiovisual student. A trilogy about women.
The films I make come from an urgent need to have things spoken of and a silent contemplation, in order to better understand what is happening around me.

This same urgency, which is inextricably linked to the moment, triggered this project.
The film began by a fascination for my friends, for their body languages and their beauty. I wanted to understand this primitive dance of seduction, to savor the details of their complex relationships in order to learn about life.
I hadn’t lived as they had, and I decided to appropriate their lives in a way. During the 5 years it took to make the film, it moved in a very different direction.

Around your characters, the social, political and even geographical contexts are rather absent. Why this choice to concentrate on faces and speech?

We live in country that is weighted by a heavy past. Lebanese cinema bears witness to this.
War has infiltrated life in many ways.
e muet incorporates this socio-political and even geographic context, uniquely through the film’s characters. They were born during the war; their experiences, customs, resolutions and choices have naturally been influenced by it. And yet nothing is ever said, the film is not interested in showing it, or proving it.
It’s true, my choice was more centered on faces and speech. We see only these women throughout the film. I see them this way, in close up most often because I find them beautiful, for they have confidence in me and let me get close to them. And yet I never tire of them.
Their presence becomes intriguing and we wonder what is so exceptional about them.
They relate the bits and pieces of their lives, they speak to me as a loving friend or lover behind the camera. Speech is unleashed, sometimes held in and rarely suggested. It’s this to and fro between progression and regression, between searching and fulfillment, which is at the heart of their history. The small “h” of this last does not imply its relative smallness, but is part of its singularity and even becomes exceptional under the angle of vision, and the persistence of the angle of vision.

In this exclusively feminine triple portrait, the presence of men is almost nonexistent. As if they are cut off from the world, these women seem to occupy a gynaeceum which, from a single room, a car, unfolds without ever enclosing them or hampering their speech. Is this a way to create, or to seize, a place of freedom?

I am only interested by these women, I see only them. I deliberately wanted to exclude the other, who provokes the feelings and reactions of these women. It is only through them that I wanted to explore this territory, which is my own. The exclusion of any other person is not a reaction against, but rather an excessive attention, almost an obsession.
It’s a rule I naturally imposed on myself, without really thinking about it.
I think that it creates a specific visual language. The women invade the images because I invade them.
I could never have done it if the tacit contract to mutually trust each other, but which we never pronounced or signed, hadn’t existed.

The film may well be called e muet, still it is supported by voices. Voices which recount, which sing, which refuse themselves sometimes. One sings, the other…doesn’t? (note: reference to the 1977 Agnès Varda film ‘One sings, the other doesn’t’).

Nanou addresses herself directly to me behind the camera as a friend, Rajwa plays with me and Johanne observes things in my place.

3 women, 3 friends who I asked to guide me, and I let myself be guided. The structure of the film resembles a song, with all its component elements. Music accompanies them in their daily lives, sometimes overtaking speech, when everything has been said, when nothing else can be said.
They confide in me, the person who is trying to understand love. I listen to their stories, I identify with them, I assimilate their freedom of living. I think I understand who they are, even as they are trying to understand themselves. I think I understand what I’m searching for but in fact that only happens after several years, when I can finally borrow what Agnès Varda said in the film you refer to, One sings, the other doesn’t: “I have no difficulty admitting that one can be oneself and one’s double, oneself and one’s opposite. You have a thought and it fights with another thought which is just as valid.”

The characters cross paths, without bothering to explain the links that unite these women together…or the links that unite them with you. How was the film constructed, during the shoot and then in editing?

The relationship between the women is created by the regard each of them has on me.
They are my friends before being characters in the film.
I was fascinated by what they were living. I had almost never had frivolous relationships, I hadn’t yet embarked into troubled waters.
Seduction was almost unknown to me, being feminine even more unknown.
Their sensuous gestures were attractive to me and I began to film in 2008 over a 6 month period.
What they were experiencing at that time was the driving force for the film. For me, embarking on a film shoot is a voyage, a discovery of the self and I had the habit of plunging into the heart of things.

I traveled a great deal between 2008 and 2010 and each time I returned, I was avid to discover where my friends were, what they were experiencing. In my absence I’d asked them to speak to me if they wished, by filming themselves.

This method of work, over an extended period of time, became a routine in their lives, still the balance between my presence with or without the camera was sometimes difficult to manage. They were both my friends and the characters in my film.

In 2011, when I returned to Lebanon, I got back to work on the film, on New Year’s Day, with a new camera, new material to mark the passage of time. And I too had been changed by my own experiences which either distanced me or brought me closer to my friends and my film.

As to the editing phase, there were several working versions during the several years of filming. In February 2013, I worked with Shaghig Arzoumanian to structure the film. Watching 5 years of rushes and selecting which ones to use was a difficult phase. I still didn’t have enough distance from the film and we decided to exclude me completely.
In May 2013, I continued the film with Halim Sabbagh. I’d had time to rethink the first cut, to have doubts about it, in order to reintegrate myself and rework it. It was the fusion of these two edits that resulted in the final version of the film.

Would you say that friendship can be the force that motivates you to film?

This film is not an exception in my body of work. I’ve always found it necessary for the people I film to have a certain manner or desire to tell me something. I had already begun to experiment with the limits of my friendship with the film affinity. My family was the subject of Oxygen. Les femmes bonnes essentially follows the life of Doulika, the maid who lived with us for 6 years.

Two films are exceptions to this rule, Film of welcome and farewells and Je t’aime infiniment. I discovered another approach, another viewpoint, more distant, less caressing, but just as scrutinizing.

Finally, to answer your question, I’d say that love is surely the driving force that pushes me to film.

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