The release of Nicolas Boukhrief’s film was pushed back twice. First in January 2015, following the attacks against French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, then a second time the same year after the shootings and hostage taking of November 13. This thriller examines the birth of an Islamist cell in the Paris suburbs, and the “fiction” was deemed too close to reality. Available in France since January 2016, the movie was released on Video-on-Demand this week in the United States.
France-Amérique: What inspired you to create Made in France?
Nicolas Boukhrief: I came up with the idea in March 2012. A Frenchman named Mohammed Merah, 23, had just murdered three soldiers and four civilians in Montauban and in Toulouse. I was shocked by the events. Mohammed Merah was not simply an isolated killer, but in fact claimed to be the soldier of an ideology. I concluded that there must be others like him. And throughout my research I realized there were no documents explaining how young French people could reach this level of violence.
This film deals with such a sensitive subject. How was it received?
Many actors and distributors refused to work with us. Some cities denied us permission to film. The SNCF train company refused to rent us a vacant lot for filming. People told me that the subject was irrelevant, and that no one was interested. They were scared the terrorists would take their revenge. After three months of filming between August and October 2014, a distributor finally accepted the film and set its release for mid-January 2015. But then, the editorial team at Charlie Hebdo was chosen as the next target on January 7, 2015. The film had become too sensitive, and the distributor cancelled everything. Another distributor agreed to take on the project with a release planned for November 26, 2015. But 13 days beforehand, Paris was once again hit by another wave of terrorist attacks. We decided not to release the film. We couldn’t have organized a premiere while people were dying in hospital.
Do you think your film was released too soon?
No. It would be impossible to make this sort of feature-length film today. We only managed to do it in 2014 because the terror was not yet widespread. The thing that really bothered people was that the main characters were the terrorists, and not the victims. We were the first to cover the subject of radicalization and “the threat from within” through cinema. French directors have always avoided this subject, even after the attacks on the Saint-Michel métro station in Paris in 1995 and the 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001.
How did you present the terrorist characters in your film?
Made in France offers an inglorious image of the terrorists. They are cowards, liars and stuck in the past. Films generally present the villains as charismatic characters; the ones in my film have nothing virile or iconic about them whatsoever. The head of the Islamist cell claims to be a great jihadist, but he is pathetic. Jihadism is nothing more than a death wish, an ultra-morbid, romanticized fantasy.
Why did you choose to shoot the film from a journalist’s point of view? Why did you not use a police officer, as is often the case in thriller movies?
At the time of filming [in 2014], French police officers were not allowed to infiltrate terrorist networks [The French Intelligence Act of July 24, 2015, authorized and facilitated police infiltration]. I wanted the film to be as close to reality as possible, and so I made the main character a journalist. It should also be noted that the journalist does not fight. He is an intellectual, representing knowledge and education. If I had made Sam [the main character] a police officer, the film would have become a Western-style showdown with the “good guys versus the bad guys.”
Does Made in France address the question of integration in France?
Imagine you live in the projects, a part of the suburbs abandoned by the authorities. You are nothing, no one cares about you. Then, one day, a group of young people from your neighborhood end up on the front page of every newspaper after taking a Kalashnikov and gunning down civilians in the name of religion. A troubled young person who, like many members of their generation, is constantly searching for fame, can quickly spin out of control. Our society has also brushed aside questions of religion in the name of unbridled liberalism. The younger generations have nowhere to practice their religion, or even talk about it, and so have been incredibly religious – far more so than their parents. This has led to a withdrawal into distinct communities, which can be seen in both France and the United States. The election of Donald Trump in America and the rise of François Fillon and his conservative program in France are symptoms of this phenomenon.