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French-Tunisian Auteur Raja Amari on Sensual Drama ‘Foreign Body’

Variety logo Variety 12/10/2016 Alissa Simon
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In a certain sense, French-Tunisian director-writer Raja Amari creates feminist thrillers, even if she may not choose to describe them that way. In her debut feature “Red Satin” (2002), a respectable widow spies on her daugher and then defies convention to become a belly dancer. The dark fairy tale “Buried Secrets” (2009) investigates the effects of seclusion on the development of a woman’s sense of self. And her latest, “Foreign Body,” sends an immigration story into unexpected byways as it explores a relationship triangle.

“All my movies are focused on female characters,” says Amari. “I like to follow them in a certain evolution and make them drift from one stage to another, while confronting them with both inner and social issues.”

Her films also notably explore gender and desire. “For me, those two themes interlace,” she notes. “Foreign Body” questions the notion of territory, boundaries and identity. Those questions also apply on an intimate level. “The body is a territory where the characters test their own limits and where they end up transgressing those limits.”

“I wanted to deal with the political and social aspect of the immigration issues from an intimate perspective, focusing on two female characters drawn into a shady relationship,” she adds.

It was also important for her to show immigrants as individuals capable of passion and desire, unlike the faceless masses represented in the media. Amari felt in familiar territory with this subject since she had explored it in her previous movies. “It seems to me important to continue to explore the question of desire both in a realistic and fantasised way,” she says. “It’s an essential element in emancipation or frustration in the Arab world today, especially when it’s related to women,” she points out.

Amari was a serious student of dance and her main characters always display a sensuous physicality.

“In “Foreign Body,” the dance scene with Samia reveals something different in her character,” she notes. “She appears more perplexing, freer. When the three characters dance together, it crystallizes the attraction between them and allows something ambiguous to escape from them.”

Palestinian-French performer Hiam Abbass, the star of Amari’s “Red Satin,” reunites with her in “Foreign Body.” The film also features two younger thesps. “I saw Sarra Hannachi in a Tunisian movie and I loved her magnetism and sensuality,” says Amari. “We made some tryouts, and I found in her something like the Samia I imagined, with this rebellious and untamed side. I enjoyed working with her on the evolution of the character from an illegal immigrant to a sophisticated woman and building up her disturbing side.”

Regarding the male character, Imed, she “wanted an actor who could be both kind and threatening. And found that in Salim Kechiouche, whom she had seen in several films, including “Blue is the Warmest Color.“

For her next project, Amari says she’d like to work on a genre movie. “I always felt drawn to some genre aspects in my previous films. This time, I want to fully explore the thriller genre.”

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