×

“Cinema is not pages and it’s not minutes: it’s the way you look at the minute that passes,” Syrian director Ameer Fakher Eldin is talking about the 55-page script of “Yunan,” his follow up to “The Stranger” (Al Garib), which played at Venice Days in 2021. Eldin knows from the experience of editing his first film that one page doesn’t equal one minute. “It’s a two hour film,” he says.

Eldin’s second feature is due to film in the first half of 2023 and is currently being presented at this week’s Red Sea Souk Project Market of the Red Sea Film Festival. Iconic figure of New German Cinema Hanna Schygulla and Syrian actor Bassem Yakhour have both been cast in the production. They join Lebanese actor Georges Khabbaz (“Capernaum”), and German actor Sibel Kekilli, from “Game of Thrones” and Fatih Akin’s “Head On.”

Filming will take place in Hamburg and on an island in the North Sea, between Germany and Denmark. “These islands have this beautiful, picturesque landscape,” Eldin says. “There’s a flood season in the winter and the houses are built on these hills and when it floods, the houses themselves become an island, until the water goes away again.”

This landscape serves as a perfect metaphor for what Eldin envisions as the second part of a proposed trilogy which will portray different forms of alienation via the figure of the Stranger. In his first film, the stranger was alienated from his homeland even as he lived there. In the second chapter, Eldin says: “I place this hero, not the same character, of course, a different story, in exile. The third one will be the one in the middle, about the stranger who comes back to his village after a long time and finds not only can you forget about the past, but that the past can forget about you.”

In “Yunan,” the stranger is an Arab novelist in crisis, who is struggling to write a story his sick mother once told him. This story-within-the-story will be filmed in an as-yet undetermined Middle Eastern location, or potentially Italy. “He’s depressed. His mother is in his homeland where he is not allowed to return. She’s suffering from Alzheimer’s, so she cannot remember him anymore. He embarks on a journey to search for a place to kill himself. When he stumbles upon this island, he enters the only hotel run by an elderly woman. Somehow her motherly care and quiet humanity inspire him to give life a second chance.”

The hotel keeper will be played by Schygulla, who made 23 films with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, winning the Silver Bear at the 1979 Berlinale for her performance in his “The Marriage of Maria Braun.” She has also appeared in films by Jean-Luc Godard, Ettore Scola, Andrzej Wajda, Volker Schlondorff and Wim Wenders.

Fellow writer-director Khabbaz, “Under the Bombs” (2006) and “Ghadi” (2012), plays the novelist and Yakhour and Kekilli play shepherds within the novelist’s story.

Talking about his experience in the market, Eldin is ambivalent: “I don’t like the exposure before shooting, but it’s okay also. There’s a strategy. I save things that I don’t talk about for the film, to keep them fresh in my mind for the shoot.” He expands on his influences from Franz Kafka to Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman as well as Iranian poet and filmmaker Forough Farrokhzad.

Eldin comments: “I have no problem mentioning them. You need the influence. It’s necessary for the art form as a cultural act, you know, as a continuous cultural act.”