by Federico Grandesso
VENICE, Italy, Sept. 19 (Xinhua) -- French filmmaker David Oelhoffen's "Freres Ennemis", or "Close Enemies" in English, which premiered recently at the Venice Film Festival, shows that the criminal life is far from adventurous or romantic.
The film tells the story of two childhood friends who end up taking opposite paths: Manuel embraces the thug life, while Driss becomes a cop. When Manuel's biggest business deal goes wrong, the two men come to realize that they both need each other in order to survive.
In an interview with Xinhua in Venice, Oelhoffen said that American movies "often show the romantic side of crime, so I thought it might surprise the audience to see the gap between certain Hollywood conventions and real life, at least in France."
The director explained that the project is based on the interviews with real offenders, whom he met through a lawyer friend with drug traffickers as clients.
"The reality of the criminal underworld was very far from what I had imagined it to be," said Oelhoffen. "I learned about their harsh conditions, in which they live in constant fear, not of the law but of violence perpetrated by their competitors."
With regards to the script, the French filmmaker explained that he aimed for a genre film with a classical storyline and unconventional touches like, for example, a cop with Algerian roots. "I left the actors free to change any parts that weren't faithful to the reality of the suburbs," he added.
Questioned about conditions in the tough French neighborhoods portrayed in the film, the director said that poverty generates violence and crime, which will only decrease if social inequality is reduced.
"Education is another important tool in the long-term fight against poverty and crime," he continued, adding that post-colonial France did not do enough to integrate immigrant labor from Northwest African countries.
"We needed them, but we forced them to live in ghettos without public services or transportation," said Oelhoffen. "We are now paying collectively for those mistakes."
"In those suburbs there is no hope and no integration," he said. "This could change thanks to education, but it will take time because the resentment runs very deep."
Asked what makes a crime movie successful, Oelhoffen said non-American filmmakers should stay local and focus on what they know, rather than trying to recycle the Hollywood point of view. He pointed to Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone's 1008 movie Gomorrah, which was based on a book by crusading anti-mafia journalist Roberto Saviano and whose characters all speak in Neapolitan dialect, as an example.
"It stays true to a local community and its issues, which is also a way to tell a universal story," Oelhoffen concluded.
His movie Far from Men, set in 19100s Algeria and starring Viggo Mortensen and Reda Kateb, screened in competition at the Venice Film Festival in 2014.