In “Blind Sun” a solitary immigrant, Ashraf, looks after a villa while its owners are away. With a fiery heat wave and scarce water supply, Ashraf finds himself yearning for answers and fighting to survive. Joyce A. Nashawati directed the film, which is set in Greece, and, having played the Thessaloniki and Dubai fests, proved one of a clutch of promising debuts screening at the 18th UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, which wraps Jan. 18 in Paris. Paris-based Reel Suspects handles international sales.
The movie opens with Ashraf washing his face and concludes with his entire body, except his face, submerged in water. Why did you make these choices?
Nashawati: It’s a poetic remark. I know I didn’t want to see Ashraf’s face after he looks at the house on fire. Because he has turned his back on what has happened. And it was interesting to discover it for the first time in a mirror with the two main elements of the film, light and water. The water’s thread runs throughout. There’s a violent gap between those who have it and those who don’t, and it’s the means by which a multinational company is controlling the country. It is what people fight for and what they have to beg for. It’s not a new idea that war might be for water. Here it’s part of a pre-apocalyptic setting, a very close future or parallel present. It is also, more intimately for Ashraf, the main character, a soothing balm — refreshing, enveloping and welcoming. Film production can be a long process. The swim at the end which was meant to be open ended in its feel has now taken a new dimension, as the Mediterranean Sea has become a tomb for so many trying to cross it to get to Europe.
When Ashraf goes to the store and asks to purchase water the cashier is watching an extremely graphic video. Was this done for shock value, or is there a deeper meaning behind it?
In my neighborhood in Paris, the market’s cashier is always on the Internet while I’m shopping. He’s in a distracted absent state which is weird in public spaces. I mixed this with the prevalence of porn on the Internet and imagined it being so present and normalized that it’s like watching any other video on YouTube. It makes his indifference even more indifferent.
The juxtaposition of fire and water is powerful in your film. Why did you choose these two elements?
“Blind Sun” started off from a situation I lived. One very hot summer in Greece. A forest fire had turned the sky over the coast into an eerie orange color. The sun became menacing. There was ash falling over us while we were at the beach. The contrast between the holiday feel of the beach and this event was strong. It felt like the end of the world. As if the end of the world had a terrifying beauty. I guess as soon as I decided the heat wave was an important part of the film, the sun becomes like a character, and from the sun comes sunstroke, dizziness, shadows and ultimately fire. Then water becomes the opposing force, what keeps thirst away, refreshes the body and mind on heat, soothes the spirit.
You grew up (partially) in Athens… how did your time in Greece influence this film, which is set in Greece?
It’s been Greece all along. I chose Greece for its Mediterranean feel, the rocky cliffs, the sea, the specific light but also a more personal, emotional reason. It’s a country that is on the frontier of continents, which throughout its history has always been subjected by foreign power whether it’s economic or political. Also, though it might sound like an excessive cliché, Ancient Greece can be felt in an eerie way in so many places, especially in isolated spots where you still find temples or mysterious caves, far from the noise of big cities.
Where did you find inspiration for this story and these characters?
This question is quite difficult. It’s always such a huge a mix of things that we end up forgetting once the film is finished. There’s that Greek summer filled with fires. There’s the desire to make a mystery film in daylight: To film a certain type of landscape. To work with actors from different countries creating a melting pot. To share through the genre codes I love as a cinephile something about the feeling of loneliness a foreigner can carry with him. Or even better a stranger. I like the word stranger as it has “strange” and “estrangement” in it as well.