With “Youssef Salem is successful”, director Baya Kasmi demands “a right to normalcy for Arabs”

Baya Kasmi writes more screenplays (The Name of People, 2011, The Class Struggle, 2019), but he also sometimes directs films. After ” I’m yours right now“, in 2015, his second feature film “Youssef Salem has success” is released this Wednesday in theaters.

We find there an impressive Ramzy Bédia where he plays the role of a writer who wins to his greatest surprise the Goncourt Prize with Toxic shock, an almost autobiographical novel about his family (the line is forced), far from the puritanism of his previous writings. A huge success which then becomes a burden for him and which will force him to do everything so that his parents never read his book!

With Youssef Salem has success, Baya Kasmi invites us to reflect on the difficult relationships that can exist within a family when one of their own achieves a certain notoriety. And above all, when the latter decides to mix fiction with reality…

LCDL: We knew Ramzy Bédia funny, we discover him moving, and very deep in your film. Did the choice of this actor seem obvious to you?

Baya Kasmi: I have known Ramzy for a few years. In my first film, he played the role of the father. The shooting went very well. I liked the different facets of his game. I always wanted to repeat the experience with him. I wrote this film for him.

Ramzy has this ability to create emotion. Unfortunately, it is often used by other directors mainly in the comedy register. Ramzy, the older he gets, the more intense I find his playing.

Its role may seem “a bit of a headache”, especially in these periods of acute identity crises. Was it difficult to convince him?

He said yes to me before I wrote the screenplay! After my first film, I had written about ten pages which I made him read. He immediately liked it. As it took me a long time to find producers, I came back to him seven years later.

It’s true that it’s not easy to make films on this kind of subject. On the one hand, we have the racists who do not support that our stories are brought to the screen and on the other the extremists “from home” who would like us to never address these “sensitive” questions…

But I said to myself that this story had to be written, in today’s France, with a writer of Algerian origin. This film addresses burning and invisible questions: does the Arab in France have the right, like the others, to romance? Does he have the right to tragedy, to a mythical or universal dimension, outside of his social and religious affiliation?

Indeed, the film seems to criticize those who would like to lock the “Arabs” in a single category…

There is no homogeneous group among the Arabs. There are individuals who have a unique relationship to their identity, the fruit of their journey. We have the impression today that we cannot exist individually and that we are constantly sent back to our “Arabity”.

Some people allow themselves to deliver a thermometer from Arabism. They decide who is Arab and who is not. In the film, there are people with an immigrant background who criticize Youssef Salem for denying his origins and that what he says in his book will give them a bad image. As Youssef Salem says in the film, when an Arab drinks alcohol, he loses points, when he doesn’t believe in God too… I claim for Arabs a right to normality!

Aren’t you afraid of upsetting or shocking people with your film?

First, I don’t think about the blows I’m going to take, otherwise I wouldn’t write. To answer your question: I don’t think I’m going to offend people with this film. We did dozens of previews. And it always went well. In some rooms, there were veiled mothers. They told me that they were a little shocked but that they liked it. Most people are smart.

Admittedly, my film tackles taboo subjects, such as sexuality in Arab families and also homosexuality, but there are no “shocking” scenes. This film is above all a family film, accessible to all, regardless of the viewer’s origin or social class.

Moreover, during the screenings, people who are not of immigrant origin told me that it also happened like that in their families. Because the story I tell in this film is universal. He also talks about the fear children have of disappointing their parents, of not living up to their hopes.

You have chosen comedy to address these sensitive themes…

Comedy is the best way to talk about subjects that create tensions within families or in society. When we talk about things that express shame, or that are difficult to assume, the comedy helps to remove the seriousness. It’s a way to de-dramatize.

Twenty years ago, I would have been even more provocative. At the time, I wanted more freedom, I needed anger to release shame. Today, I don’t want to attract people to a room with “negative” material. I think this film is at a good distance so that it is visible to all.

> To read also:

Movie theater. “Our brothers” by Bouchareb leaves a bitter taste in the Benyahia family

His career, cinema, his childhood: actor Fatsah Bouyahmed tells us everything

“Honorary Citizen” by Mohamed Hamidi, a breath of fresh air to see at the cinema

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