We talk with Hannachi, a promising talent of Tunisian cinema, on her road to acting and her hopes for the future.
by Sherif Awad photos by Hayssam Samir
Sarra Hannachi is one of the most promising young debutantes of Tunisian cinema, reappearing on the radar at November's Cairo International Film Festival when Sweet Smell of Spring was recognized as Best Film Winner. She was also the leading actress of both Bidoun 2 and Child of the Sun.
As a child Hannachi was fascinated by acting and dancing. At 16, she took early theater lessons against her mother's will. “I was supported by my father who gave me some money to enroll in a theatrical workshop overseen by Tunisian director Taoufik Jebali,” Hannachi says. “In Tunisia, many families were like mine: they appreciate arts and cinema but get worried when their daughters want to become professional actresses.”
In 2012, Hannachi heard that Tunisian director Taieb Louhichi was casting his new film Child of the Sun, which marked his comeback behind the camera after many years. Louhichi, who was severely hurt in an accident, returned as a writer-director despite being confined to a wheelchair. The film plot was inspired by his current condition: it revolved around a writer in a wheelchair (played by veteran Tunisian star Hichem Rostom) who lives on his own at a remote villa when three teens break in.
“I played Sonya, one of the three teens in my first role in front of the camera,” Hannachi says. “It was technically difficult for me because it was my first cinematic experience, not to mention that Louhichi had to have assistants convey his classic-style directions to all of us, given his health condition.”
Hannachi’s next experience came with Jilani Saadi, another Tunisian veteran director who cast her in his short film Bidoun and its extended version Bidoun 2. “Saadi likes to work with his actors on the characters prior to shooting which was very rewarding for me. I played Aida who flees from her family home to look for answers about the meaning of life.”
In Sweet Smell of Spring, Boughedir, winner of the tribute and life achievement award at last October’s 50th Carthage Film Festival, reflects on the Arab Spring through the story of Aziz. Nicknamed Zizou, the young unemployed graduate leaves his Saharan village for Tunis to make a living as a satellite dish worker installing dishes on rooftops. While working in Sidi Bou Said, he falls madly in love with a girl named Aicha who is locked up by a mafia group close to the old regime. His dream is to set her free.
“The Tunisian people are symbolized by Zizou, and Tunsia by Aicha,” says Hannachi, who describes the award-winning director as “funny and down-to-earth.”
Although she was criticized by some for appearing in a partially nude scene, Hannachi does not have a problem going bare for her roles. “I was taught in dancing lessons that my body is an expressive tool and I should not be ashamed of it,” she says.[caption id="attachment_559461" align="alignnone" width="620"] In Foreign Body[/caption]
Before arriving to Cairo, Hannachi was well received at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, where she presented her new film Foreign Body directed by Raja Amari. The story centers on young Samia, played by Hannachi, who flees from her radicalized Tunisian brother and heads to France, where she finds works at the house of the elegant Leila, who has sinister plans.
Like many Tunisian actress passing through Egypt, Hannachi met several Egyptian filmmakers who expressed their interest in casting her in Egyptian productions. Can audiences expect her to follow in the footsteps of compatriots Dorra and Hend Sabry, who moved to Cairo? “Nothing is concrete,” Hannachi says. “The most important thing is that my mom is now so proud of me.”