CINEMA It’s the story of Saadi, a young Moroccan immigrant living illegally in Switzerland, finds himself taking part in a terrorist plan in spite of himself. And today the comedy Operation Casablanca hits movie screens. Director Laurent Nègre takes us from Geneva to Casablanca in time for the film’s opening.
Made in Casablanca: Where did the idea for Operation Casablanca come from?
Laurent Nègre: Following September 11, I felt like I needed to tell a story about terrorism/security paranoia, but in a comedy. I developed the basic idea with a Moroccan friend, which then led me to a comedic action film.
Made in Casablanca: The story takes place in Geneva. So where did the title come from?
Laurent Nègre: Eh! Saying too much about this will ruin the film for viewers. I don’t want to spoil it!
Made in Casablanca: Were you familiar with the city before arriving here?
Laurent Nègre: It’s my third time in Casablanca, and I never get tired of it. The last time I stayed a week for casting in the actors' union in downtown. For me, coming from Geneva, it’s a big city, but it’s very inspiring. I’d like to spend more time there. And who knows, maybe shoot a film there one day.
Made in Casablanca: You are dealing with a sensitive issue, terrorism. How can this subject be approached in a comedic manner?
Laurent Nègre: I believe we must talk about everything and make it smart, for the viewers, for others, in a intellectual manner. Approaching a sensitive subject with conviction rather than shaking society is what interests me. As for the humour, I am comfortable telling the story of a character torn between terrorists and security forces without feeling guilty. But the most sensitive subject is the character, it’s not an abstract theme but a human being in need of credibility and support in his career while remaining as fair as possible. The errors face-to-face with an actor seems a lot more dangerous than approaching a particular subject.
Made in Casablanca: A comedy like this one also hopes to reflect on questions in society (illegal immigrants, tolerance, etc.)?
Laurent Nègre: If this film provokes that, I have achieved one part of the objective. If it makes people laugh and allows them to escape, even just for a moment, the quicksand in which we debate all the time, I won’t ask for anything else.
Made in Casablanca: After releasing the short film Il neige à Marrakech, and now Operation Casablanca. Is it by coincidence, or do you have a particular interest in Morocco?
Laurent Nègre: It’s a country that I’ve been attracted to and inspired by for quite awhile, and I have a thirst to learn more and see more in the future.
Made in Casablanca: How did you find your lead actor, Tarik Bakhari?
Laurent Nègre: From a casting call in Casablanca. The meeting was very clear, and the try-outs that we did together I was immediately convinced. Tarik is an exceptional comedian and a very beautiful person. I consider myself lucky to have made this film with him and I hope to have the opportunity to do it again soon.
Made in Casablanca: Rumour has it that you have another project lined up with Tarik Bakhari following Operation Casablanca.
Laurent Nègre: After filming Operation Casablanca in Switzerland, we’ll do Operation Interlaken (a Swiss city) and then we’ll head to...Essaouira! No seriously, we are thinking about it, but I'm a little superstitious to say anything at this time. I prefer to talk about what is confirmed.
Interview Mathias Chaillot