YIDFF 2011 International Competition
What Is to Be Done?
An Interview with Emmanuelle Demoris (Director)

What Is to Be Filmed?

Q: In shooting the people of Mafrouza, how did you want to depict them?

ED: What was important to me was to shoot them without pushing social attributes onto them. Basically, it was to not shoot the “Muslim” and “those living in slums” from the point of view of a “French woman,” but rather to create a personal relationship with the people of Mafrouza in the process of filming. The film isn’t about the slums, nor is it about poverty, if anything I wanted to make it a film about their love. The reason why they are able to live there is because there is a sort of solidarity, or maybe I should say neighborly love. They all help each other out with love and affection. Being with them for an extended period, it felt as if these people who did not know anything about what was going to happen the following day were happier than people like us, who live in a world that constantly thinks about the future.

Q: My understanding is that this is one of a five part series.

ED: Meeting the people of Mafrouza, I came to understand that they are living in the midst of very complicated human relationships. For example, there was Mr. Abu Hosney, the man who was troubled by the fact that his house was flooding. His neighbors help him out, but at the same time they also make fun of and mock him. I feel that it is important to depict this complex and ambiguous human relationship of mocking one another, while helping each other out. Rather than using explanatory edits, I felt that it was important for the viewers to understand these two distinct emotions by showing the scenes for an extended period of time. Also, to have my audience understand the existence of these contradictory emotions and enter into the film’s world, thus facing its characters, I felt the need to make the scene very long.

Furthermore, I thought that to display these complex human relationships, it would be more effective to use a number of protagonists in a polyphonic form. My friends and I went over the possibilities of all of the material that I brought back and we decided to make it into a series of five films.

Q: I felt that the title, What Is to Be Done? was a mix of its two meanings, “I don’t know what to do,” and more positively, “I want to do something.”

ED: Mr. Abu Hosney quietly mumbled, “What am I going to do?” when he looked at his flooding house. The people who appear in this film live thinking, “What am I going to do?” Hassan, being a deserter is thinking “How should I act? What should I be doing?” Adel and his wife, who are forced to live in a cave-like house, decided to have a child after thinking “What kind of family life should we lead?” I was always very moved by their ability to improve their lives even a little bit, by acting on their own intention.

Hassan’s answer to “What should I do?” is to sing. While this may seem trivial, I feel that thinking about how one can improve their life and acting upon that thought is, no matter how small, a revolutionary act. The reason I used the words of Lenin, “What is to be done?” in the title is because I wanted to depict the people of Mafrouza as small revolutionaries.

(Compiled by Ichikawa Eri)

Interviewers: Ichikawa Eri, Hanawa Shun / Interpreter: Fujiwara Toshi / Translator: Kenji Green
Photography: Katsumata Erika / Video: Kobayashi Ririko / 2011-10-09