Designated guilty: Tahar Rahim, the Arab of the future


CRITICAL – In Kevin Macdonald’s film, the actor who has a brilliant career abroad plays a detainee at Guantanamo.

These days, Tahar Rahim walks the red carpet on the arm of Mylène Farmer and Mélanie Laurent. It changes him from Guantanamo. The actor, member of the Cannes jury chaired by Spike Lee, is playing at Designated guilty, in theaters this Wednesday. The true story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, captured by the US government and held for years without trial or charge. The shooting and release of Kevin Macdonald’s feature film (The Last King of Scotland, Power games) have been disrupted by Covid-19. Its programming in the middle of the Cannes Film Festival is a nod to another prison film, a prophet , by Jacques Audiard. Awarded the grand prize in 2009, he reveals Tahar Rahimaux eyes of the world.

The actor, who will achieve the double at the César (best male hope and best actor), has since led an exceptional French and international career. Yet when he receives the screenplay from Kevin Macdonald, who once directed it in The Eagle of the Ninth Legion, Rahim recoils. “I had a bit of hot and cold, the actor remembers. Seeing the title, Guantanamo Diary (“the Guantanamo Diary”), I thought to myself: “Oh my, I hope this is not an Arab terrorist role.” The kind of thing I constantly refuse. At one time, the proposals that came from the United States, and parts of Europe, all revolved around this topic. Why not, these films have their raison d’être. Except that the characters are stereotypical in films which in my opinion do not ask questions. It doesn’t interest me, it even annoys me. Designated guilty is of course very different. Kevin is a smart, shrewd person. Reading the script, I realized that I had made a mistake. ”

Tahar Rahim thus refused to play the role of the terrorist tortured by the CIA (finally played by Reda Kateb) in Zero Dark Thirty, by Kathryn Bigelow, story of the hunt for Bin Laden. On the other hand, he did not hesitate to accept the series The Looming Tower, in which he is a Lebanese and American FBI agent close to intercepting in 1998 the future perpetrators of the September 11 attacks.

Meeting with his model

For Designated guilty, the actor ended up meeting while filming in South Africa his model, Mohamed Ould Slahi. “He went from a prison with walls to an open-air prison. In Mauritania, the government confiscated his passport until a few months ago. He could not travel, while his wife, an American lawyer, lives in Berlin with her child. The United States did not let go and always put pressure on the embassies. The only country that agreed to issue him a visa is South Africa, probably because of its history of apartheid. He was able to come and see us. One day I walked out of my hotel and ran into him. I was finally able to hug this person I talked to for months. I had the feeling of meeting a member of my family. ”

For these two roles, being an Arabic speaker was an asset. But his main passport remains the practice of English. “I took lessons for The Looming Tower and spent a lot of time in the United States. Same thing for Mary Magdalene and The snake, I stay in contact with English speakers for months. Playing in English frees me completely. The musicality changes, the rhythm, the accentuation. The face and the body itself move differently. Emotions follow. I am less in restraint than in French. Our language has a low frequency, unlike English or Italian. ”

Anglo-Saxon actors grow up to be complete performers. Most are demanding and rigorous

Tahar Rahim

In Designated guilty, Rahim gives the reply to Jodie Foster (lawyer Nancy Hollander) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Lt. Col. Start Couch). There is a worse partner. “Anglo-Saxon actors grow up to be complete performers. Most are demanding and rigorous. Jeff Daniels explained to me that an American producer asks an agent two questions: “Is he on time? And does he know his text? ” In France, there is more affect. ”

Tahar Rahim is on time. He is now in great demand and can choose his projects according to the subject or the role. Not the format, as he proved by turning The snake, miniseries in which he plays Charles Sobhraj, French con artist and serial killer in Thailand in the 1970s. “There are some very interesting things happening on the show side now. I remember True Detective, a cardboard box despite its darkness. It wouldn’t have worked so well in the movies. For me the greatest series of all time is The Wire. When I finished it, I felt like I lived in Baltimore. ” Finishing The snake, one has the impression of having lived in Bangkok. And it is hardly more encouraging than the jails of Guantanamo.

Designated guilty, drama by Kevin Macdonald. With Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbacht. Duration 2:09

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