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Cannes Film Festival: An Impactful Short Film in Faris Alrjoob’s THE RED SEA MAKES ME WANNA CRY


In only 21 minutes an impactful story is directed by Faris Alrjoob. The Red Sea Makes Me Wanna Cry tells the story of a German woman who goes to the town on the Red Sea where her Arab lover has just died. Beyond a simple story of mourning, the invention of an eerie port town by this young Jordanian filmmaker has Durassian echoes: the death of both a man and a city.

AM: How was the pre-production process like?
FA: I’m not sure whether by choice or circumstance, but I prepared for a long time before shooting. It started with my co-writing partner Matthew LaPaglia in Boston in 2019 where we had met, and then later, along with a core team consisting of cinematographer Mahmoud Belakhel, and production designer Alina Musiol, we went on several trips to scout these desert towns in the South of Jordan where the story is set. We stayed at the little motels and tried to understand the truth of the place, so that we can fictionalize it but maintain its essence.

AM: And how was it once filming had started?
FA: We had of course a thousand logistical challenges, which our team of producers powered through, but perhaps the most difficult part of the process to navigate was creating a highly empathic vulnerable space within which we can create, on set and around. I think my way of work is very emotional and of course we all take some of that home with us. So, finding a balance between the practicality of a film shoot, and the vulnerability it required to go to certain places in order to find truth, was integral.

AM: Tell us more about your choice of casting the journalist Ahmed Shihab-Eldin
FA: It was important to me that the actor who plays Ismail is somebody to whom the viewer can feel a visceral sense of longing. And who I, and Clara, can vividly continue to miss after he was no longer on set. The character has a ghostly quality in the film, haunting Ida as she continues to search for him and reconcile with his absence. And Ahmed has this rare quality that all great performers do: he is elusive in his presence. Tender, and generous with his energy, but also clearly private and vaguely mysterious. After every take, it still felt that there was more to explore, a mirage an arm’s length away. It is cinematic alchemy. It was also important that we cast someone who, like Ahmed and the character, is born in one place and born again in many. Especially within the context of this interracial relationship, and the inevitable risk of an orientalist reading of a story which has at its center a white western woman experiencing an Arab town, her partner had to be somebody who can make the weight of the love within this partnership credible and legitimize the vastness of the absence the protagonist feels. Ahmed brought all this with levity, and anchored us pre, during, and post the shoot.

AM: What makes a short movie more impactful than a long one?
FA: I admit that I don’t love the term short movie, because to me, and especially in this time, the duration of the film is not its most relevant quality. A story that is 20 minutes but complete is no different than one that is 40, or 120. The most impactful quality of a film I believe is its characters, world, rhythm, and story.

AM: Would you say this movie tries to change the perception of westerners about the East?
FA: No, I know it doesn’t try to. It might or might not have an accidental impact on perception, but we did not set out with that in mind, nor did we have the western viewer as the center point. We made specifically the film that we wanted, that touched us, and I think it is important as artists to attempt to disrupt the mono-narratives of these centers of power. I am based in Europe, and I of course would love for my friends here and viewers everywhere to connect with the film and feel a sense of ownership, but as Senegalese auteur Ousmane Sembéne so beautifully put it: “[…] why be the sunflower turned towards the sun? We are the sun.”