Hicham Lasri: ‘It Won’t be Long Before the Arab World Decisively Rises Up Against the Status Quo’

Helmer's Cannes player 'They Are the Dogs' screens in Marrakech's Cinema at Heart sidebar

Hicham Lasri: 'It Won't be Long

Hot on the heels of the success of 2012’s “The End,” Hicham Lasri weaves another post-war tale with apocalyptic undertones in “They Are the Dogs.” The sophomore feature comes to its home fest of Marrakech after making the festival rounds at Cannes, Dubai and Hamburg. Lasri wrote and directed the film, which follows a TV crew at it follows a man who is released after 30 years in prison and forced to navigate modern Morocco: a world he doesn’t recognize. Just like the protagonists’ blurred reality, the movie itself teeters between fictionalized drama and documentary.

Tell us about your film “They Are the Dogs.”

“They Are the Dogs” is a story of initiation involving an individual who was rounded up during the so-called “bread riots” in Casablanca in June 1981. After 30 years in secret detention, during which time he was thought to have died, he is released at the height of the Arab Spring in Morocco in 2011. These two historical moments are mixed up in his mind and his journey back to the real world becomes a bad trip at the heart of a country and a region on the brink of implosion. This is a Ulysses who returns to his Penelope only to realize that he no longer has a place in this world. The film is built around the emotional and sensorial Armageddon of the main character, who becomes obsessed with his own quest for truth.

What does the movie suggest about the current social climate in Morocco?

It is a combination of unease with and desire to understand our place in the world. The citizen in our part of the world has always been seen as a negligible entity. The masses have been deprived of their voice in an environment of unfavorable economic conditions, dictatorships, fake causes and a certain enslavement. The Arab world has become a cartoonish universe. It is a totalitarian world where the ordinary citizen is at pains to articulate his existence, assume and enact the courage that transforms human beings into pioneers, inventors and creators. I shall never forget an old neighbor who feared the postman because he wore a uniform and had a cap like the cops. Since September 11, this unease has become even more ingrained. The situation has become intolerable and it will not be long before the Arab world decisively rises up against the status quo.

Why did you decide to shoot the film from the point of view of a TV news report?

I am wary of making films about the Arab Spring, which for me is a “political happening.” I needed to start with an “official” point of view — television offered me this perspective — before installing the canvas to tell my story. What interested me was not the Arab Spring, but the bread riots of 1981 — a terrible moment of my childhood. I also deployed irony so as to flirt with black comedy.

“They Are the Dogs” had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. How do you anticipate the festival experience will differ at Marrakech?

I think that we have had similar positive reactions wherever the film was screened. However, it is true that this festival selection in my own country has a special flavor. The film speaks directly to a dark episode of the country’s past, so I am looking forward to the reactions of the audience at this prestigious film festival.

What would you like your legacy to be in the Moroccan film world?

Philip K. Dick always comes to my mind whenever the question of legacy is raised. Each film can be either a stone in a hopefully great edifice or a shovelful of red earth on a grave. The truth is that for me, cinema is a religion, so I try not to look too far ahead into the future. I am taking advantage for now of the opportunity to make my next feature film “(Kill) Salman!” as part of the Cannes Cinéfondation Residence scheme. This makes me feel that my approach belongs within a certain trend of world cinema.

How has the film market evolved there over the years?

It is obviously very difficult for a cinema like Morocco’s to make a place for itself among the dominant film industries worldwide. However, the journey is always part of the destination. “They Are the Dogs” has been thankfully well received everywhere, but this places the bar very high for my next film.