30th FID Marseille | 2019
Alaa Eddine Aljem: "There is a lot of pressure and we can’t overcome all the struggles we face to make a movie, especially a debut feature unless we really enjoy the process."

THE UNKNOWN SAINT | Dir. Alaa Eddine Aljem | Opening Night Film


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The Unknown Saint brilliantly combines the tradition of burlesque with a social depiction whose contours are overtly minimalist. The setting is stripped back to the bare bones, there are only a few characters, the situations are unequivocal, the psychology is basic: the economy of means at work here is striking.

Hello Alaa, many thanks for talking to TNC, how are you doing?

Hello, I’m doing very well as you can guess!

Are you looking forward to bringing The Unknown Saint to FID 2019?

Yes, I’m very excited to show the film in Marseille, and to do the Fid opening is a great pleasure. It’s a festival I used to follow and I’ve always wanted to attend.

The attention The Unknown Saint has gained has been incredible, has this response surprised you?

When I was making the film I couldn’t afford to think about the kind of response it will have. I just had in mind making the movie in the best possible way. 

We did overcome every challenge we faced and we did that with a smile on our faces. With my close collaborators, we had this guiding line since the beginning. It’s a passion, we need to enjoy it. And that’s exactly what we did. After that came very quickly the festival attention and Cannes invited us quiet early.

It was a special moment for me. 

Then Everything went so fast, all the attention, the press, the festivals…It’s a wonderful adventure because, at the end of it, all this attention means one thing to me. The film will be shown to more and more people and various audiences which is the most important thing. 

What did it mean to get nominated for Critics Week Grand Prize & Golden Camera at Cannes 2019?

It’s not the kind of things you think of when you make the film and then when it happens it takes you a little bit of time to realize what’s going on. 

But to be honest, when it comes to making movies I’m somehow still a little kid. I just enjoy it without thinking about the outcomes. I enjoy sharing the movie, seeing people laugh at the screening and interacting with my work…That’s all I care about, everything that comes after that is a plus. 

And of course, everyone likes to be nominated to prizes and to win some of them and have recognition. 

"It’s a wonderful adventure because, at the end of it, all this attention means one thing to me."

With The Unknown Saint being the Opening Night film does this add any extra pressure on you?

I always feel a little bit of pressure before showing the film to the audience but once it starts I feel better and more relaxed. The fact that it will be shown at the opening night means there will be a lot of people, a larger audience, in fact, it’s something I enjoy. 

Can you tell me a little bit about The Unknown Saint, what can we expect?

It’s a burlesque fable, all settled in the desert with some western looks in it. I hope you’ll laugh and think while watching it. 

What was the inspiration behind your screenplay?

Life and its absurdities. 

What was the most challenging part of bringing this film to life?

Every part of it was a challenge. A good challenge.

I remember with my producers we used to say all the time, this is the hardest part but right after that it will get easier, and as soon as we arrive at the next part we see new difficulties coming and we start again “This is the hardest part just after that  it will be easier…” we did that until the end. 

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

No, I always had a passion for writing but not for filmmaking. There was no screenwriting section in my cinema school so I did filmmaking and screenwriting and the more I experienced filmmaking the more I loved it. 

I understood that it’s the same thing in its essence. It’s writing with other materials.

The Unknown Saint 6.jpg

How much has your approach to your films changed since your debut?

It is in constant evolution. There are a lot of similarities between my shorts and my debut feature. The most remarkable thing is that the cinematic language I use is getting restricted from one film to another. 

In the first 5 minutes short I made at school I used travelling, camera movements, different lenses… in the one, after that, I used less movement…And in the feature film “The unknown Saint“ I ended up using exclusively static shot and wide angles. Almost the whole film is shot with 35 and 50 MM lenses that are the closest in terms of proportions to the human eye. 

How important is the collaborative nature in filmmaking for you?

It’s important, no one makes a movie alone “few exceptions made in some specific cases”.

For the Unknown saint, I chose to work with people of my generation. The average age on the set was below 30. I think we need to all connect to the same energy to make the film together. I needed to impulse this energy on the set and to have passionate collaborators around me that have patience and passion in addition to their talent.

It was the case for me in this film. The DOP Amine Berrada was fantastic, we had a great connection and a lot of fun. The art department was great, our set designer Kaoutar Haddioui built all the sets you see in the film including the mausoleum and stairs on the hill in record time while she’s barely 25 years old.

What is the best piece of advice you would offer an emerging filmmaker?

To enjoy it. 

It’s crucial to enjoy what we do. There is a lot of pressure and we can’t overcome all the struggles we face to make a movie, especially a debut feature unless we really enjoy the process. 

In passion, we find the resources we need to go forward. 

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?

I hope they laugh and think about what they saw.