Women, Beauty, Truth Mahmoud Jemni interviews director Lahcen Zinoun

in 31st Cairo International Film Festival

by Mahmoud Jemni

Lahcen Zinoun’s The Lost Beauty was screened at Cairo’s international competition. Coming from the world of ballet, Zinoun’s first full-length film is regarded as an anthem to womanhood.

The names given to your two female characters are symbolic: “Oud El Ward” (the lost beauty) and “Dhaou Essabah”. Why did you choose these names?

Lahcen Zinoun: “Oud El Ward” represents spiritual beauty above all. “Dhaou Essabah” simply signifies the light of womanhood. For me, woman is light. These two first names symbolize my mother, who protected me when I was child. She was my accomplice. She supported my pursuit of music. By learning music, I understood a way to freedom, exactly like the heroine of my film.

Those are very optimistic remarks, since one propels oneself to freedom … but then why does your film come to such a sad end in a cemetery?

Lahcen Zinoun: The cemetery is the human end: The body dies. On the other hand the music produced by that body is eternal. The grand Sufist Jalel Eddine Enoumi said: “Among the ways which lead to God, I chose music”. Art and music, in particular, bring us closer to God.

The music in your film has more than one function, but it’s primarily curative. Why did you insist upon this last function?

Lahcen Zinoun: I’m not inventing anything by granting this function to music. In 1268, for the first time, doctors in Fez used music to treat the patients of an asylum. Later, in Andalusia, music was used as therapy. I integrated these historical facts into my film. The music made it possible for Oud El Ward to be released from her initial state of slavery. It frees her. To be delirious, and then be cured, is to have your freedom returned to you.

The music certainly frees Oud El Ward, and at the same time it destabilizes her master. Why this ambivalence?

Lahcen Zinoun: Oud El Wardplays highly spiritual music; the Master is only a technician. For him, the music is just a sign of material wealth. He is not a true musician. He even says it in the film: “Your music is a light which I never had”. His obliviousness allows her to reach a higher level of enlightenment — and he remains unable to interpret the secrets of the human heart.

Would you agree with me that this film is an anthem for womanhood, as embodied by these two girls — especially “Dhaou Essabah”, who lowered her arms forever?

Lahcen Zinoun: Exactly. It’s a true anthem, through two very different roles. One — by never, ever lowering her eyes or her tone — always holds her head high, even though she’s a slave. The other never surrenders the life in her music. They are the two positive forces in my film. It is an anthem to my mother.

The scene of rape is disturbing. How can you justify Oud El Ward being grateful to her rapist?

Lahcen Zinoun: The Master regards Oud El Ward as a rival; he is jealous of her. She plays music better than he does; she exceeds him. He sees the rape as vengeance. Through this gesture, he demonstrates his superiority on a physical level. He’s destabilized by this girl’s music, which leads to the act of violation.

How did your first love, the ballet, influence your making of this film?

Lahcen Zinoun: The influence is felt through the rhythm, the scarcity of the dialogue, and the use of suitable music.