Louda Ben Salah-Cazanas • Director of The World After Us
"Learning to accept the city’s brutality and the harsh nature of money is central to the film"
- BERLINALE 2021: Idealism, ambition and love blend together in a seductive first film which explores the precarious predicament of young people in Paris whilst flirting with autofiction
Unveiled in the Panorama section of the 71st Berlinale, The World After Us [+see also:
interview: Louda Ben Salah-Cazanas
film profile] is Louda Ben Salah-Cazanas’ charming but accurate feature film debut.
Cineuropa: Social portrait? Love story? Coming-of-age tale? What were your original intentions for The World After Us?
Louda Ben Salah-Cazanas: A mix of the three. In some sense, it began in the realm of autofiction because I’ve been in a similar situation myself. I was directing short films which were sometimes successful, sometimes not; I was scraping a living in film and doing little jobs on the side, until the day I met the woman who would become my wife. At that point, a sacrifice of sorts took place: my wife was a student and one of us needed to take care of the bills. So, I decided to take a break and take on small jobs, experiencing all the complicated emotions that come with thinking that you’ve given up on what you want to do.
Ironically, I started writing a lot at that point, describing the very situation I was experiencing. I wrote the film while keeping as far as distance as possible from it because it was very personal. I was determined to examine those three elements (the social side, love and the coming-of-age aspect) in the one film. It was mostly in the editing room that we needed to strike the right balance. We needed to show that publishing a book, like my character does, doesn’t change him; life is more straightforward than that, it’s more about what we have in our immediate surrounds.
Labidi is faced with the harsh nature of life in the capital for young people today.
I tried to keep it as true to life as possible. I really like Paris, but it’s unrelentingly cruel, both in terms of living costs and social representation. Learning to accept the city’s brutality and the harsh nature of money is central to the film.
I didn’t want to make a staged film. I wanted to make a very straightforward and unpretentious film with a focus on the characters. My aim was for it to be as alive as possible, not a film with melancholic tendencies revolving around a form of hindsight where you look back on the past and say: "Oh, it was a brilliant time, look how much we struggled!", but rather a film that’s anchored firmly in the present, at a time when we’re still struggling.
How did you develop the film’s hybrid tone?
I wanted us to hover between genres and to inject comedy into what is ultimately a drama. I knew Aurélien Gabrielli really well; I wrote the film for him, and it was his genuinely unique personality which lent the film its distinctive feel of floating somewhere between genres, because he’s tongue-in-cheek, jaded, depressive and kind of cheerful, all rolled into one.
You also tackle, slowly but surely, the difficulties involved in changing social class, as well as identity issues.
I’m mixed race just like the character, but in the reverse sense: my father is Tunisian and my mother is French. I’m French in the eyes of Tunisians and Tunisian for French people. It gives rise to a form of suffering that takes a while to understand and which I feel is intrinsically linked to movement between social classes, to changes in environment. I get the feeling it’s a very modern problem. Second generation immigrants like myself, or Labidi in the film, don’t really know who they belong to. It’s also partly the case in terms of social status. When I remind people of my roots, which I’m very attached to - a working-class background, simple, not particularly educated - people say: "no, you’re boho!" To give you an example, right now I’m working in logistics at Leroy Merlin, because you can’t earn much money making films at the minute, and when I found out that I’d been selected for the Berlinale, which happened at the same time as I was offered my new job, my parents were happiest about the job. This dual identity can complicate life in terms of tastes, lack of understanding, etc., and it can bring you down because you can end up blaming it on others or on yourself. It needed to be a part of the film because The World After Us depicts hard times, precariousness, but it’s a different type of precariousness because, as Bourdieu said, our roots determine who we are, but trying to move away from this determinism is also a form of determinism in itself.
(Translated from French)
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