BRAHIM (Majdi Machmouchi) & LEILA (Caroline Hatem)
Jean-Claude Codsi Interview
- What is your movie about?
- It is the story of a man who has violated the code of honor that governs his community, which forced him to flee his country. He comes back, 20 years later, and confronts his family.
- Is the script based on real facts?
- No, it’s a totally made-up story. Pure fiction.
- The movie events take place between Lebanon and Jordan, and what your character has violated is related to the “honor killing”. What is it about?
- The “honor killing” applies to women who are supposed to have sullied their family’s honor. The only way for this family to “cleanse its honor” is by killing the culprit. It is up to this woman’s father or brother to execute this death sentence.
WOMEN AT CEMETERY
- What do they have against these women?
- A woman suspected of adultery is condemned and a young girl suspected of going out with a man without the consent of her parents is also condemned. This practice is associated with the tribal structure of our communities and dates back to the pre-Islamic period, and has nothing to do with this religion: it also takes place among Christians in the East. It is certainly not systematic and the “honor killing” luckily remains uncommon. Nevertheless, women are killed in the name of honor all over the Arab Middle East, as well as in Turkey and Kurdistan; this practice also extends to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is very difficult to work out the magnitude and number of the “honor killings” because they are often disguised as accidents or suicides, but according to a United Nations study, there would be more than 5,000 a year.
FARID (Chadi Haddad)
- What would be the origin of this practice?
- When society was composed of tribes, the power of each tribe depended on the number of its members. A 5,000-people tribe was definitely more powerful than a 1,000-people tribe. Women of every tribe had the weighty duty of giving birth to children who would later on strengthen their tribe. It was out of the question then for a woman to marry a man of an enemy tribe and give birth to enemies or rivals. This is why the marriage is endogamous. It must be within the tribe and the heads of the families must watch over it at all costs. The woman who would infringe this rule is condemned, and the father who would not kill “the black sheep” would be disgraced. This is why, as the movie recounts, one must marry his cousin. After all, the term in Arabic describing the mother-in-law, who is the mother of one’s wife, is “my uncle’s wife”!
MEN AT CEMETERY
- You have set the story in Jordan, why is that?
- Jordan has this specificity, in that it does not deny this; it acknowledges this plague that is “honor killing” and tries to fight it. Associations have been established: they try to amend the law that grants mitigating circumstances for those who commit honor killings and they protect the condemned women by offering them a shelter where they can hide away from their assaulter. It must be noted that once these young girls find out they are threatened by their family, they have no resort left since the ones who are supposed to protect them are now attacking them. Before these shelters were created, they used to sometimes ask the police to protect them, and the latter had no other solution but to hide them…in prison!
OUM BRAHIM (Leila Hakim) & BRAHIM (Majdi Machmouchi)
- This problem addresses women and the main character in the movie is a man.
- I am convinced that the women’s battle will be responsible for changing the way things are. But this code of honor is mainly a male thing, and beyond the honor killing, it is about honor in general that I wanted to talk about. I wanted to try showing the way our communities are governed by this “macho quality” of honor that fosters for instance the vengeance obligation. And how, in order to save face, we are ready to make up lies and accept untruths, as long as they suit us and contribute to cleansing our honor. André Comte-Sponville, talking about honor, once said: “this equivocal feeling we can neither admire nor despise completely”.
LEILA (Caroline Hatem) & SARAH (Rana Khalil)
- When Brahim ran away, he hid in Beirut. Why Lebanon?
- In Lebanon also, we do have honor killings, although progress has recently been made since the Parliament had voted for the law that ceases to grant murderers mitigating circumstances. But I also wanted Brahim to be in Beirut, a city big and foreign enough for him to become an individual who is no more accountable towards his community. I’m not saying that Beirut offers the anonymity of big cities like Paris, London or New York, but we still find enough freedom to work, trade and, above all, enough freedom for political discussions and social debates… One of the main problems of our regions is the supremacy of the community over the individual; the individual’s rights are squashed in favour of the social cohesion of his group. This is tragically true for Lebanon. And Brahim, who is a foreigner, has no doubt noticed it more than anywhere else, which may have contributed to his decision of going back home and facing his family.
ASMA (Bernadette Hodeib)
- You are also the scriptwriter.
- Yes, but other screenwriters have helped. In the very beginning, Lou Inglebert has strongly contributed to the first layout of the project. Then once I was done writing it, Eve Deboise reviewed it and helped make it better. And once finalized, Ghassan Salhab brought in a final and conclusive input. Previously, this script was selected in the Francophone Production Forum, of the Namur festival, where I was able to gather the opinion and advice of many scriptwriters, directors and producers. It was also part of a Euro-Mediterranean program for the development of movie projects in Marrakesh, where my producer Michel Ghosn and I have stayed for three times, one week every time, debating our projects with expert screenwriters and producers.
BRAHIM (Majdi Machmouchi)
- Let’s talk about the formal aspect of your movie. What led you to this choice?
- I wanted this movie, which addresses foremost the Arab and Oriental audience, and whose subject concerns primarily this audience, to be easily accessible. This is why I opted for a classical and linear narrative structure. And as I was moving forward in the writing process, it seemed to me I was drifting towards what we ironically call in Arabic “drama ‘anif ”, which translates to “violent or strong drama”. We describe as such the flamboyant Egyptian melodramas of the heydays. I don’t deny this connection with what forms a part of our Arab cinematic heritage. There also exists in our heritage, and here we are talking about television series, “Bedouin dramas” in which Jordan specifically shined. These are historical dramas taking place during the glorious era of the Arab civilisation, where the values praised are courage, honor and courtly love. “A Man of Honor” relates to this too, except that the drama is contemporary, not historical. The sound engineer, Manu Zouki told me upon reading the script that he saw a sort of an Arab Western in it, which I did not dislike; and together with my cinematographer Michael Lagerwey, we have finally adopted the scope format and the landscape dominance, both characteristics of the American Western. Toufic Farroukh’s music further emphasized this choice.
LEILA (Caroline Hatem)
- Have you worked with professional actors?
- Yes. Majdi Machmouchi, who plays Brahim, the main character of the movie, is very well known in Lebanon and some Arab countries. He had already played in my first movie “Time has Come”, and before that in Maroun Baghdadi’s movie “Out of Life”. He is, in real life, of confounding simplicity and kindness, yet he is the backbone of the movie! As for Caroline Hatem, she mainly has a dancer’s background and this is her first appearance on screen. I am sure her acting skills hold a bright future for her. Mahmoud Saïd, who plays the role of Kamel the old uncle, is a real Arab star. He has played, among other films, in “The Message” next to Anthony Quinn. It was a great gift he offered me by accepting to play in this movie.
BRAHIM (Majdi Machmouchi)
And finally we have Chadi Haddad who plays the young son, Farid; Chadi is a rising star of the Lebanese television and cinema. As for the other actors who play parents and other small roles, they come with a background in theatre and television, with a special mention to Bernadette Hodeib who plays Asma, Brahim’s bedridden wife.
FARID (Chadi Haddad) & SARAH (Rana Khalil)
- Aren’t there any Jordanian actors?
- No, they are all Lebanese with the exception of Mahmoud Saïd who is Palestinian. At the beginning, I wanted to work with Jordanian actors, and I actually held a full casting in Amman. But the Jordanian co-producer stepped down later on, which made me give up the idea, due to financial reasons. The Lebanese actors played their roles with a Jordanian accent.
KAMEL (Mahmoud Saïd)
- How was your movie financed?
- The first conclusive step was to secure a grant from “Fonds Sud Cinéma” in France. Then it was the “Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie” who supported the movie. And finally, in the finishing stage, the “Doha Film Institute” brought its contribution. These grants secured more than half of the financing of the movie. By adding the contribution of some of the salaries and private investments, we were able to balance the budget. It is to be noted that currently in Lebanon we have all the technical means and human resources to produce a quality Feature Film. All we lack is a sound mixing studio. Besides, with the emergence of the digital, the production cost was greatly reduced since the expensive costs of the 35mm film stock and those of the chemical laboratories are cut out. I would like to point out that the image postproduction, i.e. the grading, the special effects and the credits are completely done in Lebanon. I insist on thanking in this regard “The Postoffice” who was especially of great help in finishing the movie, as well as granting its support to many Lebanese filmmakers.
- Given the number of movies recently produced in Lebanon, we can say that the Lebanese cinema is doing well.
- Yes, and I hope it will only get better and better.