Bangladesh debuts in Cannes with “Rehana Maryam Noor” by Abdullah Mohammad Saad

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The independent film “Rehana Maryam Noor” was screened on Wednesday in Cannes, a first for a Bangladeshi film in the history of the festival. France 24 met its director and screenwriter, Abdullah Mohammad Saad.

The Cannes Film Festival is magical in that it allows young filmmaking talents from all over the world to rub shoulders with the biggest stars of cinema for a few days and to be considered almost as much as they are.

Of course, the eye of photographers only catches the glamorous side of the stars on the red carpet and the red carpet, but the Cannes Film Festival above all allows you to explore the world of cinema and discover new talents.

>> To see: In pictures: Sophie Marceau dominates the red carpet in Cannes

At 36, screenwriter and director Abdullah Mohammad Saad is one of them. Her film, “Rehana Maryam Noor”, is part of the “Un Certain Regard” selection and became, Wednesday July 7, the first Bangladeshi film screened in the official selection at Cannes.

This is Abdullah Mohammad Saad’s second film after “Live from Dhaka”, released in 2016, which won him the Best Director award at the Singapore International Film Festival before being presented in several European festivals. Like her first film, “Rehana Maryam Noor” is based on characters with a strong character, like her protagonist played by the exceptional Azmeri Haque Badhon.

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She takes on the role of Rehana, a single mother who is an assistant professor at a teaching hospital who struggles to run her professional and personal lives. To her daily challenges is soon added a fight for justice, when she finds a student in tears, the victim of a sexual assault by a professor.

The film tackles well-known themes: stubborn women fighting against injustice in a sexist world. But the complex character of Rehana, incorruptible but ready to lie to achieve her ends, does not necessarily fit into the usual representation of a feminist heroine.

France 24: How did you receive your film selection at the Cannes Film Festival? And how did Bangladesh react?

Abdullah Mohammad Saad: It is truly a great honor to be present at Cannes. Making a movie takes a lot of sacrifice, dedication, time and energy, so when something like this happens, it’s an encouragement to keep going.

People in Bangladesh were overjoyed. It was more of a consecration for them than for me. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the independence of Bangladesh and the selection of my film has given confidence to Bangladeshi cinema.

What difficulties did you encounter in financing your film?

Of course, we have a harder time in Bangladesh than in other more advanced film industries, but funding for the film has not really been a problem. I love working with my friends and I was lucky to have my producer, Jeremy Chua, who also helped me a lot with the writing.

My main actress also gave everything she had for this film and always met our expectations. My cameraman did weight training for over a year because I told him you had to be especially fit for this shoot. This film is the result of collective work.

Your film is fascinating in the way it explores the characters. Where does this interest come from?

I grew up with three older sisters. They are very brave, beautiful, dynamic and intelligent. They have always dominated in the family and have had a great influence on me. I have observed them closely, as daughters, sisters, mothers and working women. It has always fascinated me. And that’s how my film was born: I always had in mind this image of a stubborn woman. I wanted to see what was in her stomach and how far she could go.

Rehana is not what you might call an ambassador for the MeToo movement. Was it important for you to create a complex and ambivalent character?

My film is an exploration of human nature. There is obviously a political aspect, but my intention was not to make a political film. I don’t see myself as a committed director. I’m more interested in the characters and their complexities. So I didn’t try to make Rehana the representative of a movement or a cause.

Anyway, is there anything in particular about your country that you wanted to share?

What I described in my film, I inevitably drew from my experiences or my observations in my country. But I also wanted everyone to identify with my main character, not just Bangladeshis. When a friend told me that his story could happen anywhere, even in France or elsewhere in Europe, I thought to myself that maybe I had succeeded in telling a universal story.

Can you tell us about how your lead actress participated in the creation of her character?

When I first met her to discuss the character, I didn’t have the whole script yet. We started rehearsing while continuing to talk about the character. These discussions changed the scenario. Her vision as a single mother has certainly helped me a lot. And she rehearsed for nine months for that role, putting everything else aside. We couldn’t pay her enough considering the work done, but she really wanted to make this film and she carried it on her shoulders.

Adapted from English to French by Romain Brunet. The original article can be found on the English-speaking site of France 24.

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