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Cannes Film Festival: HARKA’s Adam Bessa and Lotfy Nathan

Lotfy Nathan x Adam Bessa x Harka


Ali, played by Adam Bessa, is a young Tunisian man in his twenties who makes a living selling contraband gas on the streets. Ali dreams of a better life for himself, but his domestic responsibilities step up when his father’s sudden death leaves him in charge of his two young sisters.

In an exclusive interview, up-and-coming star, Adam Bessa talks about his challenging role in Lotfy Nathan’s thrilling Harka.

AM: Being Tunisian, how was the topic relatable? And why did you accept the role of Ali?
I grew up in Tunisia, both of my parents are Tunisians, and I have a strong bond with the country. The quality of the script, the ideas conveyed and its intensity all made me take on the role. It was very easy to say yes, I matched with the director Lotfy Nathan very much, and there was an instant chemistry.

AM: Describe your preparation process
I firstly prepared in France, we were reviewing the script, gathering ideas and I did my own homework. And then I went to Tunisia for three weeks before production, spent time with the smugglers, and was all by myself. I got the contact of the locals through the director who introduced me to these guys after his field research. I learned from their habits and their ways in a place you wouldn’t normally visit. It was important for me to get the accent right and to tan, as the smugglers spend the whole day under the sun.

AM: Were there some unforeseen surprises?
Yes. A week before shooting the producer said that we will only have three takes per scene. It was a huge challenge and I wanted to do everything from one scene and reserve the others in case there’s an accident, especially that we had non-professional actors with us. I had to protect them and give them my takes. My confidence was going up and down, but fortunately for us we did it. The conditions of the film weren’t easy, the weather was extreme, and we had to trust each other, as actors and as an entire team.

AM: And who do you think is the victim and tyranny in Harka?

Victim isn’t a word I am familiar with; in life I look at the consequences of actions. I don’t know if victim is a state or a fact especially when it becomes a lifestyle. I don’t think there is one single tyranny, the whole history of Tunisia had multiple tyrannies and you need to go back hundreds of years to understand all the facets. While the tyranny is gone, the system remains the same, corruption is still there and a change in the mentality takes a lot of time.

AM: Like Ali, do you think that some men might not be ready to take on the responsibilities imposed by society?
Absolutely. There is a huge aggressivity and violence towards and amongst men. What men do to women, they also do it to men. Violence doesn’t know any gender.

Lotfy Nathan x Harka


AM: As an American/Egyptian director, why did you choose to focus on the political situation in Tunisia?
Initially the film was going to be about the root of the revolution, even symbolically, because it may very well have happened elsewhere in the region, but there had to be some catalyst. And I found it very interesting that there was one character named as the symbol of it all, Mohamed Bouazizi. I thought it would be great for a film because it was a pre-political story with a human touch and a larger scope. It could have been in many other places and the balance in the film allows it to have this sense without being too specific.

AM: What is your relation with Tunisia, and how much field research did you have to do?
My relationship initially was zero, I didn’t live in the Middle East before. But being of Egyptian origins I understand things and have feelings about the region. Coming from a documentary background, I spent a lot of time going to Tunisia over the course of six years and talked to the people, looked around to try to get a sense of the place. My research wasn’t for studying the political backdrop of the country, but rather to observe the country from my outsider perspective.

AM: Which angle did you want to portray about the Arab spring?
I don’t think there’s a general answer for the region, after revolution comes crisis, and that’s a given. Whether revolution is a success or a failure is abstract because it comes with a cost, and the system is often replaced by the same mechanism though it may look different on the surface. So, I try not to make that kind of statement, but what I did do is feed the attitude towards it into the main character Ali, who is a bit tired, resigned and kind of over it.

AM: And what were the challenges on set?
Lots of challenges, we knew that our schedule was going to be brutal. It was 12 to 14 hours of filming a day, so even when we started with great morale, we learned that we have to work for 7 days a week because there was a miliary activity happening that could interrupt production. It did affect people’s spirits. The project was always under threat, but once production started it felt like we were jumping into a sinking ship and that we had to make it float no matter what.

AM: How did you feel when Harka was selected in the Un Certain Regard category in Cannes?
I love it, it’s amazing. What feels good is that it gives a sense of conclusion for all of us and a sense of relief to everyone’s efforts. It’s a perfect place to present it especially that it’s my first time in Cannes.

Lotfy Nathan x Adam Bessa x Harka
Synopsis: Ali is a young Tunisian who dreams of a better life and ekes out a lonely existence selling contraband oil on the black market. When his father dies, he is forced to care for his two younger sisters who have been left to their own devices in a house from which they will soon be evicted. As he wrestles with the sudden weight of responsibility and the injustices he faces, anger and indignation stir within Ali – that of a generation still fighting to be heard more than a decade after the revolution.