interviews

Raja Amari

The woman's role

After dipping her toe in the world of cinema with a short film, the young Tunisian director, Raja Amari, born in 1971, has made her debut feature length film with a story of passion and emancipation. Satin Rouge is a French-Tunisian co-production and it has already won the Best Film prize at the last Turin Festival and the New Director’s Showcase Award at the Seattle International Film Festival. The film has garnered many positive reviews from around the world as well as an excellent reception from the public.
The main character is Lilia, a ‘good woman’, who has been a widow for some time and who is a kind mother to an adolescent daughter. Having suppressed every female desire in herself, Lilia doesn’t understand the uncontrollable urges of her daughter. But she is extremely attracted to the world of dance, and she re-discovers her sensual femininity through the excitement in the eyes of the clients in a cabaret bar.

Did you base the character of Lilia on anyone in particular or does she come purely from your imagination?
“It’s not a portrait of my mother. It’s more a mixture of people and characters. The thing I was most interested in was doing a film about the world of dance. All Arabic cinema starts off from dance and the way it is portrayed; in the past many actresses were also dancers”.

So, given that dance is an expression of intimacy and passion, Arabic cinema seems to be much more free than one would have thought …
“It was, in the ‘40s and ‘50s, then it slowly became more closed, becoming increasingly more conservative. In respect to the great freedom seen in the cinema from the past, the ways the bodies moved and also the moral content of the films, and here I’m thinking of the first musical comedies by Chaϊne, cinema nowadays is much more austere. The modern characters are always very precise and clear. Women are often shown as victims of society and when they rise up against injustice, they usually end up by winning”.

From a certain point of view, is your film also about a woman who is trying to liberate herself from the duties of being a mother and a widow?
“Yes, but not just that. I would say that Lilia finds her freedom through dance, though she does keep up a certain double life, given that she hides this activity from everyone. Above all she wants to go back to being a woman and thus, once again, to be attractive to men”.

In the film, the cabaret bar doesn’t appear to as ‘sinful’ as one may think?
“I also had these type of prejudices during our first location scouting expeditions. Then I discovered that they’re places where the joy of life is the most important thing. The public and the dancers are happy during the dancing and they share the pleasure of the dance together. Basically it’s a place which contrasts greatly with the everyday life outside: the women who dance represent a very strong femininity, they’re in charge of the situation, while the men subjugate themselves and end up by being dominated by the women”.

The film is a co-production between France and Tunisia, did you have problems bringing the project to fruition?
“A lot, both in the presentation of the screenplay and in the making of the film. During the presentation stage of the project, the criticisms and queries mainly came from the French, who thought the story wasn’t realistic. Then, when the film was finished, I had to come to some agreements in order to calm uncertainties from the Tunisians, who were nonplussed by the images they saw in relation to the screenplay they had read. Even though the comments from the national critics weren’t very positive, the film wasn’t censored in any way and it has been very well received in the rest of the world”.

Samira Kchaou