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Hiam Abbass and Slimane Dazi talk of ‘Oussekine’

Slimane Dazi in still from ‘Oussekine’.

Slimane Dazi in still from ‘Oussekine’. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

On December 6, 1986, in Paris, police chased and beat Malik Oussekine to death. That was a turning point in the student protests against university reforms under the Devaquet Law. Oussekine, a 22-year-old student, was not a participant in the demonstrations — he was walking alongside the protesters on the way home.

The fallout of the police brutality, the subsequent cover-up and the Oussekine family’s attempts for justice and to make sense of their dreadful loss are the subject of Antoine Chevrollier’s gripping four-part series,  Oussekine.

Hiam Abbass who plays Malik’s mother, Aicha, says she was not living in France during the incident. Speaking over a video call from Paris, Abbass says, “I knew Antoine was writing something about a kid who was killed by the police. I didn’t know who Malik Oussekine was. When it became clear to Antoine where he was going with the story, he told me he was writing a part for me and he wanted my interpretation of the mother of this boy.”

Gripping narrative

The Palestinian actor and director was not very enthused of the part in the beginning. “To be honest, I thought ‘Not another mother of an Arab guy’.” The  Succession actor nevertheless agreed to read the script. “I started reading the first episode and didn’t stop till the end. I was so intensely drawn by every second of it. Once I finished reading, it hit me and I realised what I had read.”

Abbass says she called Chevrollier immediately but was so moved by the story that she could not speak. “He was worried and asked, ‘Are you okay?’ I said this is amazing. There was no consideration of a ‘no’ in there and we went for it.”

True in spirit

Research for Abbass involved not reading anything about the case online before reading the script. “I didn’t want to be influenced by things that were said about the family. I wanted my process of prepping for the part to be true to the spirit of this mother and not necessarily what others told us about her. Once I was ready to read, Antoine and the writing room gave me a document they had created with all the material and lots of links about the case and the time.”

Hiam Abbass (centre) in ‘Oussekine’

Hiam Abbass (centre) in ‘Oussekine’ | Photo Credit: Jean Clause Lother

The cast could refer to the document for historical details, Abbass says. “Sometimes I would ask Antoine or other writers to help me understand.” The costume, hair and makeup work was also part of the prepping for the part, Abbass says. “I used the elements of that woman, at that time in history, to create a truthful portrait of her today. You could not go into this part, dressed as I am right now ( laughs). The crew makes life easy for actors. They do our job. We just come and see if we fit or not.”

The shoot was very emotional, Abbass says. “Interpreting Aicha’s journey of dealing with the loss of a son put us under so much pressure. Sometimes we would find ourselves trying to laugh, and find joyful moments before we hit that trough again. Antoine would often urge us to concentrate, while we would want more of the joy knowing we would soon have to plunge into the grief…”

Living the time 

The research process for Slimane Dazi (62), who plays Miloud, Malik’s father, was slightly different.  “I lived in the same period as the Oussekine family. My roots are the same. I am Algerian and my family arrived in France at the same time as Malik’s. I did not do any research, I just read the script and drew on my memories.”

On their first meeting, Chevrollier asked Dazi if he remembered the tragedy of the Oussekine family. “I said, ‘yes, of course, it was during my time’. We spent two hours talking about that time.” While he said yes immediately, Dazi says he realized Oussekine was a huge challenge for the cast and crew. “It is fiction based on fact, on a true story.”

Remember a scene where Miloud (Dazi) is sitting on a bench, Dazi says, it took him back to the time. “It was almost as if I returned in history, into the past and saw myself as a child with my father on that bench.”

Oussekine  is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar


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Printable version | May 17, 2022 4:52:36 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/hiam-abbass-and-slimane-dazi-talk-of-oussekine/article65418964.ece