Roschdy Zem: “Telling my family is also telling my France”

Costume dressed to the nines, severe and go-getter look. Ryad is brilliant and charismatic. And his career as a young first is the only thing that seems to worry him. Any resemblance to an existing character is purely coincidental. However, the actor and director plays his own role here, or almost. And delivers his most personal film.

At 57, Roschdy Zem sign Mine (presented at the Venice Film Festival), a sixth “therapeutic” feature film with a “mea culpa” background, he slips behind his large black frames. “I never knew how to say or show my family that I love them, out of selfishness, this film is the occasion”, he confesses.

Avoiding the Essentialist Pitfall

This touching – and sometimes gossipy – family chronicle was co-written with director Maïwenn (Excuse me, DNA…). And it feels. The long family lunches organized in pretty Parisian apartments become the place of great unpacking, where brothers and sister, nephews and nieces take advantage of it, if not to go up against each other, at least to put Ryad on trial. , considered inattentive to his own.

Only Moussa, one of the brothers, interpreted by Sami Bouajila, supports him without ever flinching. Until his fall, during a party between colleagues too drunk. A concussion later – a trauma which Roschdy’s brother himself suffered –, here he is transformed into a cantankerous character and without filtered. Something to worry the whole tribe and bring a little bite to this comedy (a little too much) faithful to the codes of bourgeois French cinema.

Except that here, these French people are all from immigration. And, something rare enough on the screen not to be underlined, Roschdy Zem does not make a subject of it. This is indeed the singularity and the interest of the film, which avoids the essentialist political pitfall to focus on the intimate. “At no time was it a calculation on my part to tell this story without going through the cultural or religious prism,” notes the director. I used my eyes and my memory to tell mine through the last fifty years. »

A completely new approach

Bringing to the screen two generations of French people of North African origin without sending them back to their dual cultural affiliation, a bias revealing a turning point in French cinema and society, or a boldness which only Roschdy Zem, thirty years of career to his credit, can afford? “I realized that my film was modern in that sense only on the editing table. But at the same time, it all makes sense,” he says.

“If, in 2022, we continue to make films with couscous at the table, a young veiled girl and a radicalized young man, it is problematic, unless produced by CNews, laughs the ex-kid from Drancy born to Moroccan parents. By telling my family, I also tell my France. Without being sulphurous, this film reflects an image of French society as it is today. »

I seek to do things that I haven’t done before

A completely new approach for Roschdy Zamzem, his real name, who very early on chose to shorten his surname to protect those around him from media exposure. His daughter first, Nina Zem, who nevertheless plays her niece today in the film.

“I have reached a stage in my life where I want to open up more and be more honest with myself. I do feel that in my quest for creativity, I’m trying to do things that I haven’t done before, and I feel like I’m on target by stepping out of heroism or magnanimity to show what is pathetic to me. »

from “Indigenous” to “Chocolate”

Roschdy Zem does not spare himself. He, whom the public has long described as a “comforting actor” and who has often been compared to Jean Gabin or Lino Ventura, wants to go where he is least expected and embrace more vulnerable roles, as recently in Other people’s children by Rebecca Zlotovski, where he plays a single father who falls in love with a childless woman with whom he will try to reinvent a family model.

Today I need to put myself at naked

“My status within my family has always given me a kind of comfort because, according to my mother, I was for a long time the one who should not be disturbed. While in the eyes of the public, I have this image of quiet strength that sticks to my skin. Today, I need to bare myself, ”he unpacks. A turn in the career of the director at the origin of more political films, such as Omar killed me in 2011, or even of Chocolate, with Omar Sy, in 2016.

To read

Cinema: “Chocolate”, an allegory against discrimination

A turning point all the more flagrant at a time when his lifelong comrade, Rachid Bouchareb, to whom he entrusts a role here, signs Our brothers, the story of Malik Oussekine, killed by the police in 1986. “Each time Rachid offers a film, he has a visceral need to tell his story. I like the strength he still has today in wanting to set up his projects, this necessity”, analyzes Roschdy Zem, grateful to have participated in his greatest cinema adventure with Native in 2006, already alongside Sami Bouadjila.

The real uprooted

And to continue: “When he asked me to join the cast, five years before the shooting, I found this project crazy and above all unrealizable. I didn’t see how we could find five experienced actors with enough fame for producers to agree to put 20 million euros on the table. But Rachid got there with his resilience and his strength of conviction,” he still struggles to realize, not without admiration.

It’s every director’s dream to end up in textbooks as a reference

“And since then, the law has been passed to unblock pensions,” continues the screenwriter, recalling the day he discovered the poster for the film in his daughter’s history textbook, then a high school student. “It’s every director’s dream to end up in school textbooks as a reference, and that, Rachid achieved, and he did it with great humility. A humility that reminds me of that of my older brother. »

And this is not the only analogy that Roschdy Zem can establish between the Franco-Algerian director and his elder. “The few years that separate us are those that they both experienced in their country of origin. They were truly uprooted. When they arrived in France, they were between 7 and 10 years old, it shows in their behavior, and that’s what upsets me. I saw that at my big brother’s and I saw that at Rachid’s. » Mineit is therefore also this family of cinema, the one that has accompanied Roschdy Zem for the past thirty years, and to whom he also pays homage.

Poster of the film “Mine” by Roschdy Zem © DR

Mine by Roschdy Zem, theatrically released on 23 november.

Roschdy Zem: “Telling my family is also telling my France” – Jeune Afrique