Paris-Tehran. Forced to leave Tehran after the controversial elections in 2009, 24-year-old Anahita desperately relies on her laptop and smartphone to stay connected to the friends shaping the revolutionary movement in her homeland. Captivated by Anahita’s urgency and sense of purpose, Rachid—a young French-Algerian bellhop at her luxury Parisian hotel—tries to impress her with videos of his improvisational, parkour-style dance moves on YouTube. Secretly envious of his laissez-faire ways, Anahita dismisses Rachid’s apolitical outlook on the world and draws him into her obsessive preoccupation with the citizen-journalist digital reports of government brutality and the rapidly unfolding events. While political struggle is abstract for Rachid, it is the only footing on which he can meet Anahita—and the two begin a passionate and rootless love affair grounded in small acts of protest.
Inspired by the innovative strategies Iranian students used to mobilize the green movement against government-imposed bans, David Dusa powerfully and viscerally binds a fictional romance with real footage collected from YouTube, Google Video, and Twitter, personalizing anonymous images of violence and testifying to the revolutionary potential of the Internet. [Synopsis courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.]
“Flowers of Evil”
Director: David Dusa
Screenwriter: David Dusa, Raphaëlle Maes, Louise Molière
Producer: Emilie Blezat
Editor: Yannick Coutheron, Nicolas Houver
Director of Photography: Armin Franzen
Sound: Bruno Auzet
Sound Mix: Emanuel Croset
Dialogues: Mike Sens
Primary Cast: Rachid Youcef, Alice Belaïdi
[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Tribeca Narrative, Documentary and Viewpoints sections to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]
Responses courtesy of “Flowers of Evil” director David Dusa.
A punk rock and VHS childhood…
I am born in Hungary, but as a teenager I lived in a small town in Sweden. There was nothing else to do than to listen to punk rock and watch movies on VHS (this was obviously before the Internet). I have a friend from high school whose name is Gustav Ekman, I got my initial film education at the all-night film nights he would organize at his house. One night he showed me ERASERHEAD by David Lynch, I understood nothing of the film but I was overwhelmed by this raw energy that made me want to direct a film myself. Gustav is also the one who pushed me to do film studies at university. Thank you Gustav (and his parents for letting me stay over all the time).
From uprising to feature film…
The inspiration for “Flowers of Evil” comes from the Iranian uprising that followed the hotly contested re-election of Mahmud Ahmadinejad in 2009 and the subsequent media event. As foreign journalists were forbidden to work, ordinary citizens used mobile phones with cameras, YouTube and social networks to show the world what was happening, as well as to organize their struggle. I was amazed by the avant-gardism of the Iranian people, feeling that they were changing the way we would use these tools forever (the modus operandi of the revolutions in the Arab World today is largely inspired by the Iranian experience). I started collecting these videos from Iran (I have over 8000), knowing that I wanted to make something with them. The other key to the film is Rachid Youcef, (the main actor in “Flowers of Evil”) who I casted a year earlier for another project called “‘France.” While working together we became intimate and he told me the story of his life. So as I was watching these videos, I thought of Rachid, who despite growing up in an orphanage has this crazy energy and a lust for life. This is where Flowers of Evil comes from, in the meeting between Rachid’s life story and the images from Iran.
The fictional story of “Flowers of Evil” was written while we were watching the Iranian videos. We wanted to create a story that would harbour these images and make them intimate. We did not want to talk about the historical backdrop of the revolution, but rather the impact of these images and how someone who is completely apolitical (like Rachid) receives them. The love story became evident. Miss Dalloway (played by Alice Belaïdi) would be the bridge between Rachid (us) and these images. Also I worked a lot with my cinematographer Armin Franzen before the shooting, to find a visual concept for the footage shot on location that would later mix with the images from Iran. We baptized this concept “the fight of media”; instead of creating a homogenous material (which is the normal thing to do when making a film) we choose to shoot on a lot of different supports and in a lot of different ways. The fabric of the film is the clash of supports and aesthetics, the multitude of points of view create the “homogeneity” of the film.
Making a film is like making a baby…
The whole film was made in nine months, kind of like parenting :) We wanted to move fast in order to capture the energy that was sent to us by the Iranians, that we felt was about to change the world. But beyond this we also wanted to give homage to the immense sacrifice of these people. We use images of people dying, of people suffering; people who gave their lives in the fight for freedom and human rights. We had to be very careful to keep their dignity; we were after all using documentary images in a fiction film. Every decision was made according to this principal; safeguard the dignity of those in the videos.
Rough spots on set…
We had a very good shoot, hard as always, but most things went smoothly. Apart from one night… We were on an all-night shoot in the exterior in November. Our lovely location manager Fanny Yvonnet had organized hot soup to warm our bones. She left it of a few minutes to get some drinks, and when she got back somebody had stolen it. Somebody stole our soup!
I am currently working on a feature fiction and feature documentary, both tied either thematically or in terms of the subject metter to “Flowers of Evil.” “France,” the project I initially met Rachid for has been rewritten and is now in financing. It is about a young man who lives in the “banlieue” (the French suburbs) and who decides to make a revolution. I have also started shooting “The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted” which is a feature documentary treating the power of social media and its influence on social change, and a visual representation of the way these tools globalize and empower citizens and articulate a rapidly changing world.