Among the familiar old white guys seemingly dominating this year’s Cannes competition – Wim Wenders, Aki Kaurismaki, Ken Loach, Marco Bellocchio, Nanni Moretti – Ramata- Toulaye Sy stands out. The French-Senegalese filmmaker is the only first-time entrant in the competition line-up, with her debut feature, Parnell et Adama, the only film in the competition African-set film Palme d’Or. (Finally, Marty Diop’s Atlantique, another feature film by a French-Senegalese female director, in Won the Jury Prize at Cannes .)
But if she’s going to step on the biggest The stage was tense at the international cinema, Sy did not show. “People kept telling me [competing in Cannes] was stressful and scary,” she laughs. “Maybe I should be more stressed?”
Sy has been preparing for this moment for a while. She wrote the screenplay for Banel & Adama about an unlucky couple in rural Senegal whose passion for each other threatens to destroy their entire community, years ago . But she had to pay for the industry – co-writing the screenplay with Çağla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti (1296) and Atiq Rahimi’s Our Lady of the Nile (2019), directed the award-winning short film Astel (2023) — in front of backers will give her the opportunity to direct a feature film.
The result is that Tandem will be released in France and Best Friend Forever is selling internationally, drawing on the European and African storytelling traditions, the dual roots of Sy’s own identity. “I wanted to do a great love story that was the equivalent of Romeo and Juliet , but out of Africa in such a way that everyone everywhere, Might have something to do with it.”
The filmmaker told THR about making her film, she was very excited about Cannes and the rise of African cinema .
Are you surprised that your first film was in competition at Cannes?
It was a complete surprise as we knew for a month that we were selected for Cannes, but that was A watch, not a major game. It wasn’t until midnight, the night of the announcement, that I got a call that Banel & Adama would be playing. no one knows! Not a producer, not a distributor. I’m the one calling them. They don’t believe me! They had to call Cannes themselves to make sure I didn’t make the whole thing up.
The funny thing is the news didn’t stress me out. But now people keep telling me [to compete in Cannes] it’s stressful and scary. Maybe I should be more stressed? I’ve only been directing for about two years: I directed my first short film [Astel] and now it’s my first feature film, so I’m not very familiar with The world and what to expect from a director at a film festival like this. I’m trying to distance myself from the whole thing, but as it gets closer, the pressure builds.
Was this a huge leap for you, from directing a short film to making your first feature film?
Interestingly, I didn’t go through that transition. It was really done back to back. I should start with the function. I have written the script to Banel & Adama. But the CNC that financed the film, the French Cinema Center, they wanted to see some images first, to give me a visual impression of where I was going before they backed me up. So we made short films. But immediately afterwards, I’ve started shooting this film, which is set in the same location in northern Senegal, where my parents are from. The short went to a lot of places, to Toronto and other festivals, but I didn’t go. I’ve been concentrating on shooting the feature film.
Where did the idea for this story come from?
Well, I trained for the screenwriting part at a famous film school in France [the famous La Femis in Paris]. This is a four-year program, and each year you write a feature film script. Banel & Adama was my graduation play. My first three scripts were shot in the French suburbs, where I was born and raised, but I feel like I’m categorizing myself, making these very realistic suburban films. In my final year, I wanted to try something else. Not only geographically, setting the movie in Senegal, but also stylistically. So it’s a love story, but it’s not a naturalistic love story, it’s more of a fairy tale, like magical realism. It has a completely different tone than what I’ve written before.
My idea was to tell the love story of this couple living in this area of northern Senegal, whose love poses a real challenge to the community because there is no room for passion, no There is room for personal choice, for love. In a way, their love sparks chaos and a general crisis, even an environmental one, because when the needed rain doesn’t come, people blame it.
I was inspired by this unnaturalistic approach by thinking about the great tragic characters of Greek or French literature. I wonder why in Africa we can’t also have these great, tragic images of women. I wanted a heroine with an African background that could reach the level of Medea, Antigona, or Phaedra.
Do you know the area in Senegal?
Yes, I’m really familiar with this area, the Futa area, because that’s where my parents came from. My parents are actually more from the Northeast. For practical reasons, we filmed in the Northwest. But this is the area I am most familiar with in Senegal because I go there every school holiday. I know the place, the people, their customs and their language.
I have a very strong relationship with the culture and community there.
What I’ve really tried, and hopefully I’ve managed to do, is to create something that reflects my own being, my own identity, my own place in the world way of being. Because I’m a biracial. I literally have a double identity. I grew up in France. I did all my education here. I am deeply influenced by French culture. I have a real passion for French and European literature. But at the same time, after graduating from film school, I lived in Senegal for four years. I have a strong connection with Senegalese and African culture. So the movie was inspired by Greek tragic characters, but also African folk tales. I’m a huge fan of American authors like Toni Morrison, and her style of writing, this magical realism style, has been a big influence on me. What I’m trying to do in this movie is embody all these different things that I feel express my own way of being in the world.
There seems to be a wave of films from French directors with African diaspora backgrounds: Mati Diop with Atlantique, Ladj Ly and Les Misérables, Alice Diop and Saint Omer…
I’ve been asked this question before, what explains the emergence of movies people make more or less An African background less educated in France? Part of it, I think, is that we’re giving voice to new characters and audiences that, at least in the Western world, aren’t used to seeing on screen. I think it’s important that we actually show these people, we give voice to these people, these people are despised and invisible. Now we’re telling the stories we want to tell, showing the people we want to show. Whether they take place in Senegal like my films, or in France, the important thing is that we are all finding our own voices as writers and artists. I think when I started writing, my impulse was to get rid of all the stereotypes and categories that I could feel locked into.
That’s why I wanted to move away from social-realistic “suburbia” films, and why when I was shooting in Africa, I wanted to tell a different kind of story. [Over the years] the only way to make a movie about Africa, the only thing people want you to show about Africa, is suffering and rape and corruption, all in this very realistic, naturalistic way . Of course suffering and all these troubles exist in Africa, but I want to take a different approach, non-naturalistic…why can’t we be diverse in the way we paint African stories? Mati Diop did it with the fantastic elements in Atlantique and for me I can do this story with poetic elements, by trying to take this lyrical Ideas took inspiration from magical realism literature and translated it into a film that presents this African story in a different way.
Your actors, including the main characters Khady Mane and Mamadou Diallo, are non-professionals. How did you vote?
And I find it more comfortable working with non-actors. First of all, as actors, they don’t lie, they don’t cheat. You cast them because they have your character in them, it’s a direct connection, not something they’re pretending to be.
But a month before the shoot, I panicked because we Haven’t found our heroine, our Barnell. We knew we couldn’t postpone shooting. The rainy season is upon us and we know exactly how much time we have. Actually, the rain came early, which is another issue, but a month early and we were getting desperate. I told my producers we couldn’t wait any longer and we just started walking around the city and seeing people. We passed a school and there were a few girls talking outside. A girl looked up at me and her eyes: that was the gaze of my character Banel. These things can be tricky, so I sent our acting coach to talk to her. At first, she wasn’t interested. But she auditioned the next day. She wears a wig, and many African women and many black women wear wigs. I asked her to take it off, and when she did, seeing her shaved head, no wig, no earrings, I knew that was her.
How was the shoot?
Gosh, I could write a book about everything that went wrong! The rainy season comes early and washes everything away. We kept getting sandstorms during filming. There’s one in the movie, but we don’t have to create it, we’re eating sand every day. terrible. Every day is [22 F], hot of. Everyone is sick. crew. The heroine was seriously ill twice. Four months in a row have been one disaster after another. When I got back I lost [22 pound]. But we did. Now we’re off to Cannes!
This interview was conducted in French through a translation and has been edited for length and clarity.