Interview with Antoine Beauvois-Boetti, director of Le Cercle d’Ali [Ali’s Circle]
Monday 1 February 2021, by ,
How much of Le Cercle d’Ali is documentary? Did you do research beforehand?
I really wanted to get as close as possible to reality. Firstly, out of respect for the
subject and the people involved. And also out of principle. I like the idea that the cinema, through narrative, can also have the opportunity to discover certain things, and that, too with precision and sincerity. I already knew Bouzkachi well, but the reality on the ground is quite different. It was the different trips, with my brother who is also my producer and then with Lucie the cinematographer of the film, which allowed us to really immerse ourselves in this culture. We met many Tchopendoz (horsemen) who opened doors for us that we could not have imagined; To meet in the middle of the desert around a sheep, to be alongside the organizer of a Bouzkachi and to have the honor of giving the prizes, to be invited into the home of a family… so many things that will remain with us forever. As for the French side, we first met a lot of clubs and had the chance to follow a young man in his attempts to get settled. Then we discovered the Égletons Reception Center, with its volunteers of incredible generosity, and whose residents had a touching humanity. This is why (apart from Hichem Yacoubi) all the actors in the film are in reality non-professionals, real residents of the Center for the most part.
Why were you interested in working with an Afghan?
Bouzkachi cannot be learned. The strength, the pride, the elegance that emerges is culturally innate for them. My first desire was to transcribe this, to not cheat anything. It was the subject of long discussions and a fight with the production to get there, but I really wanted to work with a real Tchopendoz despite the difficulties that would entail. Ogabek Rajabov is not Afghan, but Uzbek. The culture is obviously not the same, but the culture around Bouzkachi is very close, and visceral. What’s more, what he experienced when he was away from his village in France for the first time was so close to the character that directing him was easy. The feeling of being lost, the language problem, all of this was already there. But the most important thing in all of this, if we stop talking about cinema for a moment, is the meeting between two young men with such different lives. I didn’t think it could be that strong. He doesn’t speak French or English, and I don’t speak Uzbek. Yet a real friendship was created. He helped us discover his passion, his country, his family. It was a real pleasure later to be able to show him my appreciation. My few days in Paris with him are memories that still make me smile today. He loves football, and we took him to the stadium to see PSG vs. Marseille. It was fantastic. Then he confided that he had never seen the sea. With my best friend, we immediately decided to take the car and drive to Normandy for the weekend before he returned to Uzbekistan. To see him wondering about the phenomenon of the tide, was just incredible. This is what I love about Cinema. This is my favorite part of this adventure, this meeting, these meetings!
How did you shoot the scenes for the group of men on horseback?
With the firm conviction that it was going to work…. Hard to believe…. We had organized a big Bouzkachi and the day before the first day, we did not know how many riders were going to be present or how many spectators were going to come. And that was stressful every night. My brother didn’t get much sleep! Fortunately out of our 4 days of shooting, we had 2 or 3 days where the conditions were good. Enough riders, enough spectators. And weather similar enough to match the shots. For the technical side, we had a part, we had a 4×4 to be as close as possible to the melee in complete safety, and we also used it to follow the galloping horses. With the tires slightly deflated and the camera held by Lucie, we managed to have a certain stability, to get the shots we wanted. For the bird’s eye shot, a 12-meter crane was manned by our Russian crew. On the monitor, Lucie had written the right and left translation to remember it and be able to direct them. Thankfully, it all came together.
How did you build the character of the preparer who accompanies Salman in his asylum application?
It started with meetings with the volunteers of the organizations helping refugees. And it really was when I met Hichem that the character really came into its own. Hichem is a caring, outward-looking guy, a real big brother figure. When we arrived at the Welcome Center, he immediately knew how to set up the right atmosphere, trust, humor… This is why in the end, it was Hichem himself who really built the character.
Where are the women in Ali’s “circle”?
Unfortunately not very present. Women do not practice Bouzkachi, in Afghanistan they are quite simply banned from it. In the Welcome Center, women and men are not very mixed, this only happens in Family Centers. These two worlds and these two locations did not really allow me to introduce women. I could have transformed the character of Hichem into a woman, but instinctively, I felt it was more of a big brother relationship. Despite all this, I think that the woman remains central in my film. The woman or rather the mother. The absence of a woman around the main character accentuates what is missing for the hero and it amplifies the image of his mother. That said, if women are not in front of the camera, they are most definitely behind it. Lucie Baudinaud shot the film, Marina Klimnoff lit it, Marie-Mars Prieur co-produced, Céline Perreard assembled the images, and Valérie Deloof the sound. My film does not pass the famous three-question test and I am sorry because I am very attached to the question of feminism, but from time to time, certain scripts are simply unable to meet those questions.
What do you think the future holds for short films?
A nice future. I think that, apart from a few exceptions, it is essential for a director to get started on short films before moving on to features. You have to find yourself on a set, with a whole team waiting for your instructions, actors to direct, producers to reassure… The day before starting my first short film, the first assistant calls and announces that he is sick and that he will not be able to be there. 10 minutes later, the actress calls and announces that she is ill and will not be able to be there. So you have to deal with it, find solutions… Funnily enough, they met the next day in the hospital, each on a stretcher, both surprised that the other was not on the set. All these problems train you and make you better suited to face 8 weeks for a feature film. I don’t think that will change in the future. Directors, producers, and actors will always need short films. In addition, the evolution of platforms can only be beneficial to the short film format. Unfortunately, shorts are no longer shown in theaters, so if platforms can help these films to live and be seen, that can only be positive.
If we were to go back into lockdown, what cultural or artistic delights would you recommend to alleviate our boredom?
Out of Africa by Sydney Pollack to travel, Le Gourmet Solitaire by Masayuki Kusumi to go out to a restaurant, a little Brazilian samba to dance and a nice match of Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League to unwind.
To see Le Cercle d’Ali [Ali’s Circle], go to the F4 screening of the National Competition.