Pour la nuit (For the Night), the stirring film by Isabelle Boni-Claverie, is available online and may be downloaded on the French website Cine4me, payment through PayPal. Video-on-Demand, a distribution system that is gaining popularity, may well be the future distribution outlet for African films, often plagued by limited distribution. The film is in French with English subtitles.
Pour la nuit (2004) by Isabelle Boni-Claverie
Could you talk about the film Pour la nuit and its reception?
Synopsis of Pour la Nuit:
On the eve of two events that mark an emotional and rapid departure from all that is familiar, Muriel and Sam are thrown together in a chance encounter.With her mother's funeral the next morning, Muriel, the daughter of a French father and African mother, struggles to escape her sorrow and unrest.Shot in black and white and set in Marseilles, Pour la Nuit opens with death. Muriel, a beautiful young woman of mixed-race, has just lost her mother. She escapes from the tragedy in a taxi whose driver warns her of "hot-blooded men" that frequent the district where she asks to be dropped off. She meets a man in a down-town nightclub and they share one night of passion and stark honesty. In the early morning they part - Muriel to attend her mother's funeral, the man to attend his wedding.This evocative short film, by French/Ivorian filmmaker Isabelle Boni-Claverie, is a passionate depiction of beginnings and endings.
During a recent interview with Isabelle Boni-Claverie for the African Women in Cinema Blog, she had this to say to my questions about the film:
It is a story that I wrote spontaneously in one night. I submitted the synopsis to my producer who said, “let’s do it!” At the time, I do not know why, I wanted to shoot in Sweden. I wanted my character to be in a city where she would feel completely foreign. And I like the North Sea, its vast desert beaches. The producer thought that Sweden was a bit expensive... So I suggested Côte d'Ivoire, a very urban film where Abidjan would be a character in itself. I crisscrossed Abidjan a lot at night when I was a teenager. I had very unique experiences, often poetic, that I've never seen transcribed in a film. The producer gave the OK. Yet, it was not that much cheaper! While waiting for replies for funding the political situation began to worsen in Côte d'Ivoire. There was so much distrust, so much violence, including the lugubrious "death squads", that it no longer seemed possible to make a film there that would be shot almost entirely in the exterior and at night. I settled for Marseille, which like Abidjan, is a city built on the edge of the water, with long roads, and a cosmopolitan environment. Of course, I did not make the same film. But I think that I was able to keep most of what I wanted to say: How each copes with life’s grief, even in a less conventional way. I was very touched by the reactions of audiences at various festivals in which I presented. Many times women came to me spontaneously, saying they had responded similarly during a loss. While this is a film about death, many have said it was a wonderful call to life. I very much appreciated receiving the Signis Ecumenical Jury Prize or that of the "prix du public" at the Amiens prison. The prisoners told me that they felt good to hear about love and to see a "little rascal" who also had her share of humanity. These are the kinds of reactions that give meaning to the films that one makes.
I really like the film. I see it in the context of identity, especially identity in movement, in Africa and Europe. Muriel seems very at ease as a Frenchwoman but I sense ambivalence in her bi-racial identity, especially vis-à-vis her mother, though I also feel a tension with her father. In reflecting on the debate raging about identity in France right now, could you reflect on your identity as a Franco-Ivorian and your film Pour la nuit in this context?
The debate over national identity in France is a false debate about a false problem. The French nation has always been diverse. This diversity is visible more now than ever and people no longer want to deny a part of themselves in order to melt into a model of assimilation. It irritates some disgruntled people. But the French have rejected this debate by an overwhelming majority. However, there is still some way to go for a “metissage”, whether cultural or ethnic, to become fully accepted. When you are mixed, you are always asked to choose. As if you could amputate a part of yourself! I feel completely French in France and fully Ivorian in Côte d'Ivoire. I'm not accountable to anyone, and certainly am under no obligation to prove my nationality, which, in fact, from the very start I had no choice in the matter! As I enjoy saying sometimes, the only person in my family who actually migrated was my grandmother. She was white, French, and she came to settle in Côte d'Ivoire.
Undoubtedly, it is hard to situate my character Muriel in Pour la nuit. She made her choice, to identify with her father who is white. Perhaps her mother did not give her sufficient reason to be proud of her African-ness or, she simply did not transmit her culture to her daughter. So, Muriel finds it very difficult to connect to the black part of herself. At the same time she feels that if she does not, something is missing, hence her aggression towards her father. Her encounter with a young man of Arab origin will enable her to connect with that part of herself which comes from elsewhere. Then and only then, will she finally be able to mourn her deceased mother.