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Kaouther Ben Hania employs a unique approach In Competition


A singular cinematic experience awaits the audience in the Grand Théâtre Lumière with Les Filles d’Olfa (Four Daughters) by Kaouther Ben Hania. The Tunisian director, who was a member of the Cinef and Short Films Jury in 2021, blurs the boundaries between documentary and fiction, between being on-screen and off-screen, between pain and joy.

While working on her film Zaineb Takrahou Ethelj (Zaineb Hates the Snow), Kaouther Ben Hania became caught up in a story she was listening to on the radio. The mother of four adolescent girls was recounting the tragic disappearance of her two oldest daughters. This woman’s name was Olfa. The story is as striking as it is troubling, and it haunted the director to point of contacting the mother.

The documentary format was the obvious choice. Kaouther Ben Hania first distinguished herself in the genre with Les Imams vont à l’école (Imams go to school) (2010) and Le Challat de Tunis (2014). She nevertheless summoned two actresses to play Olfa’s missing daughters, but after shooting the first scenes, the film bogged down. Olfa, due to all the tough television and radio interviews, had created a conditioned role for herself that thwarts access to her deepest truths.

Suddenly, a new idea unlocks everything: have actress Hend Sabri play Olfa and then film the dialogue between the two women, the behind-the-scenes of a fiction. In the presence of Hend Sabri, Olfa finally felt at ease and listened to for the first time.

“Digging into the contradictions, sensations, and emotions surrounding this story requires time that journalists just don’t have,” the director explains. And she adds,

’’It’s the role of cinema to go off and explore these areas, these ambiguities of the human soul.”

To encourage the introspection of Olfa and her daughters, Kaouther Ben Hania placed these characters within a unique setting created in a hotel in Tunis especially for the filming. The result is a multifaceted portrait of women, funny and illuminating despite the dramas they’ve been through.


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