Just Like a Woman tells the poignant tale of two women, barely more than casual acquaintances, who escape the prisons of their unhappy marriages and embark on a revealing journey of self-discovery that leads them to the importance—and true meaning—of friendship.
Rachid Bouchareb, director of Just Like a Woman, was born in Paris to an Algerian immigrant family. Themes of cultural identity and clash pervade his body of work, beginning with his first film, Baton Rouge (1985). In 1987, the director and his friend Jean Bréhat co-founded production company 3B, which produced all his subsequent films as well as those of Bruno Dumont.
Bouchareb was first nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1995 with Poussières de vie (Dust of Life), about life in Vietnam after the war. His next film, Little Senegal (2001), a tribute to Sergio Leone westerns and Midnight Cowboy, met with critical and public acclaim. With Indigènes (Days of Glory) (2006), Bouchareb was again nominated for a Foreign Film Oscar for his cinematic tribute to the thousands of African soldiers who fought and died to free Nazi-occupied France during World War II. The film helped motivate French President Jacques Chirac to recognize the duty of war veterans and increase their pensions. In 2011, Bouchareb received his third Oscar nomination for Hors-la-loi (Outside the Law), a chronicle of three Algerian brothers fighting for their country’s independence after 1945. His latest film, Just Like a Woman (2013), is Bouchareb’s first in English.
Bijan Tehrani: I did not see your name in the writing credits. Was this your idea for Just Like a Woman?
Rachid Bouchareb: In the beginning, I wanted to work with two actresses, Golshifteh Farahani and Sienna Miller, and to tell a story about traveling in America, the belly dance and the Arabic culture in America. This is what interested me to explore with this road movie. At the beginning, it was just these few ideas, and then I tried to write a story.
BT: In your other films, there are also different cultures crossing each other.
RB: Yes, I can’t make a movie when I don’t talk about immigration, the mix of people, of cultures, the difficulties between communities. It’s very important for me to talk about Arabic immigration in America, to decide my character through the belly-dance and the Arabic music, to show the traveling, the music travel inside through very far states of America. For example, when I made choices for locations between Chicago and New Mexico, when I found some bars, I asked about the customers they had: I didn’t want to use extras but to use the real people who lived in small cities in the middle of nowhere, and to try to have this kind of atmosphere with my Arabic dancers and see how people would feel it and receive this moment. I know it’s a forced time for them to be exposed to our music and show but after a few minutes, everyone dances, everyone sings, everyone feels. This is interesting to communicate. I am from North Africa and it’s interesting for me to share my culture through cinema.
BT: One thing that brings the two characters of Marilyn and Mona together, other than they are both in a broken relationship, is the belly-dance It’s really nice to have this bring them together this way. How did you go about casting for this film? Golshifteh Farahani and Sienna Miller are perfect for their part.
RB: I discovered Sienna Miller in the indie movie named Interview directed by Steve Buscemi, actor and director, and I decided a few years ago that when I needed an American or English-speaking actress, I would call her, and Golshifteh I knew her from her work in France in some Iranian movies and some French movies. I met her in Paris, and later I met with Sienna Miller and we made the movie together. But Sienna Miller, many years ago, I discovered her interesting work and interesting physique and face. I like her a lot. I felt happy and lucky that she agreed to work on the project.
BT: How was working with Golshifteh?
RB: Golshifteh and Sienna Miller, both like to improvise, and they have a lot of sensitivity. They don’t only act, both want to create something deeper, real emotions. I like their type of work. I wanted the movie to be free, to have many improvisations, to create the story every day. The script is only forty pages long, with little dialogue. I give them a lot of space to try to improvise, to push the story in different ways – not to stay stuck on one way.
BT: They both dance very well. How long was the process of them learning?
RB: They needed four or five months to discover the belly-dance, received many lessons before the movie started. My big fear was that these two actresses could not learn the dance. Belly-dancing is not easy and cannot be done by everyone. I was lucky because they both have a different feeling for the belly-dance and have something to give through it. It was successful at the end.
BT: I hope this film will have a great market in the US. Of course it is in English. What is the next project you are working on?
RB: I finished last week shooting a movie New Mexico.