'Lola Pater' in Locarno: Nadir Moknèche and Tewfik Jallab and the Power of an Artistic Army

The litmus test of whether a film is meaningful to me is whether I’m still thinking about it days later. Sometimes I’ll love a film and yet the next day, it no longer occupies any space in my heart and thoughts. Yes, it was entertaining while it lasted but if I don’t get a little education, a new way of looking at the world through viewing something then the filmmaker has failed me. It’s my own way of judging the power of cinema.

Nadir Moknèche’s film ‘Lola Pater’ has taken up permanent residence in my mind and whenever someone has asked me about films I love here at the Locarno Film Festival, it is among the first to come up. Starring Fanny Ardant as an Algerian French transexual, whose son (Tewfik Jallab) comes looking for him only to find her when his own mother passes away, ‘Lola Pater’ possesses the right amount of wow factor, beautiful performances and point-of-view changing wisdom to be a personal favorite. Talk about eye candy times a thousand with Madame Ardant all glammed out in her flamboyant outfits, sharing the screen with the delicious Jallab, whose performance makes every woman wish to one day meet her own prince Zino!

But beyond the visual aspect of Moknèche’s undeniably beautiful film, which I’ve discovered here in Locarno is a also a must for me to love a film, there is also an additional layer of meaning. Which one of us hasn’t struggled at some point in our lives with an eccentric parent? You haven’t. Consider yourself lucky then. But those of us who have must have pondered at least once if life wouldn’t be easier without them... And that’s a bit of the conundrum that Zino finds himself in. Love his father, eh hum, Lola as she is, or live without her? For the answer you’ll have to watch the film.

I caught up with Nadir Moknèche and Tewfik Jallab one afternoon after their world premiere in Locarno, and I ended up loving the resulting interview, almost as much as I love ‘Lola Pater’. The film opens August 9th in France.

It struck me what you said at the Piazza Grande screening Nadir, that you felt like a mother releasing her child to the world. How does it feel to be that vulnerable in front of such a big, almost 8,000 people, audience?

Nadir Moknèche: I really went without thinking too much beforehand. I just wanted to be there and let it happen.

What I loved is that although this is a very specific father/son relationship, we can all apply the film’s lessons to our own lives and our own imperfect relationships with our parents.

Moknèche: The transexual theme is not the main purpose of the film, it was more the subject of the relationship, the encounter between father and son and how this relationship began. Lola has never been a father and the son has never had a father and the transexual aspect is obvious straightaway but it felt deeper to go into the relationship between a father and son.

Is that why you chose Fanny Ardant for the part, because we connect with her right away and the transexual aspect of the story is something we don’t really think about during her performance?

Moknèche: That wasn’t something I thought about from the onset, but it was something that developed during the process of editing and shooting.

Tewfik, how did your own relationship with your parents help you in understanding this role?

Tewfik Jallab: I think the only similarity with Zino is the unconditional love I have from my own mother. She is the most wonderful woman in the world, because of many reasons. She always helped me, and pushed me to what I wanted to do. My father wasn’t happy about having a son who wanted to be an artist, didn’t have a good view about that and my relationship with my mother’s is very close to the relationship Zino has with his mother. Even if we don’t see her we feel her all the way through, which is very powerful of Nadir. I don’t know how he did it.

I have to give you credit, not just your director, because we see, we feel how human and well brought up Zino is. There is something about him that is very kind, even when he is being hardheaded.

Jallab: From the very beginning, when we started working on the movie, the way Nadir wanted Zino was to be was calm, kind and respectful. I had another vision when I was reading the script. I felt so much violence, so many strong feelings… It was the closest feeling from my own point of view. I’m very very sensitive and very bloody, I react very fast to any event so it was too close for me and I had to fight every day with Nadir to keep this violence inside and to stay proud, to stay kind. We worked a lot with the eyes, the sensitivity of how you look at things, the way you touch a cat, the way you smoke a cigarette, the way you open a door, the way you ride a bike. All those things we thought about every time we did something, and he reminded me to calm down and to be soft, to take my time.

Nadir, do you think that cinema changes our perspective of things? I mean though human at the heart, your films always deal with social issues.

Moknèche: I hope so. Of course cinema has first of all an entertainment value, but if the people who have watched my films afterwards come out and feel more openminded about issues and have learned something more, I’m happy that there is another purpose above entertainment. That people can ask themselves questions, they are eager to know more, maybe open a book and learn more…

Tewfik, do you think cinema has the power to make us look at things in a different way, a better way perhaps?

Jallab: I do this work in cinema and theater for that… It’s the only reason I’m doing this! I often think I’m too naive, to think that cinema can change the world, and when I say that I feel a bit stupid. Because when you look at the reality of the world, it’s really hard to keep believing in the fact that the artistic world could change it.

But I think we find ourselves in this mess because we watch too many blockbusters and people are beginning to live like in those movies, where everything is about violence and things get blown up every five minutes.

Jallab: Exactly! I totally agree with that. I’m really happy that this kind of movie can exist. I’m really happy that this kind of festival can exist, it’s pretty unique. When you look at the big festivals, Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Toronto and Locarno, I compare that to an artistic army to defend the world with our arms which are cinema, theater, music. Those are powerful. If we went into politics, I think people would definitely vote for an artistic world. Maybe I’m too naive again.

If an audience member can only walk away with one thought Nadir, one image or one theme from your film, what would you want that to be?

Moknèche: Ooh lala! My message is not to provoke or to impose my ideas on the public. I want them to be free and to watch the film with an open mind but I would like to be able to allow them to understand. I’m not there to point the finger and say “you have to understand my perception” but from their side I also want them to allow me to be free, to give the message I want to spread.

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