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Berlinale: ‘Divines’ Helmer Houda Benyamina Develops Romantic Wartime Drama (EXCLUSIVE)

Variety logo Variety 2/13/2017 Elsa Keslassy
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Director Houda Benyamina, who earned a Golden Globe nomination for “Divines,” is developing “For Assia,” an epic drama charting the romance between an Algerian revolutionary and an American reporter, set against the backdrop of Algeria’s struggle for independence.

Benyamina said the lead character in “For Assia” is inspired by various female revolutionaries, notably Djamila Bouhired, a leading light of the Algerian war who was nearly sentenced to death, and her fellow independence-fighter Zohra Drif.

The film reunites Benyamina with “Divines” producer Marc-Benoît Créancier at Easy Tiger. The film centers on the unbreakable bond between an imprisoned Algerian revolutionary and an American journalist whose work proves decisive in rallying support in France and abroad for getting her off death row. The story takes place over 30 years.

Benyamina, who was recently signed by WME, is looking to cast an up-and-coming American actor for the male role. “For this film, I see an actor who has the depth of Michael Fassbender and the fantasy of Tom Cruise in ‘Magnolia.'” She said she is also willing to look at talented but unknown actresses for the lead female role.

“These Algerian women revolutionaries came from all backgrounds. For Algerian youths, they were as powerful and inspirational icons as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X,” said Benyamina, who added that the underlying purpose of the film was also to shed light on the crucial role played by women during the war.

Benyamina also pointed out the two-hander will explore the complexity of romance during war time. “The love story between this journalist and revolutionary is inevitably tinted by conflicts of interest and power struggle,” said the director.

The shooting of “For Assia” will start during the first quarter of 2018.

“Divines,” a contemporary drama that premiered at Cannes’ Directors Fortnight last year, will compete for seven Cesar awards, including best film, script, first film and actress.

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