Sudabeh Mortezai on "Joy"
Victims who become perpetrators
by Patrick Wellinski, deutschlandfunkkultur.de
Sudabeh Mortezai on her refugee drama "Joy" ; in conversation with Patrick Wellinski
"They are accomplices in a system where they are victims and perpetrators at the same time," says director Sudabeh Mortezai about her protagonists.
VENICE 2018: The second film by Sudabeh Mortezai, winner of the Europa Cinemas Label in the Giornate degli Autori, is a provocative unique and feminine take on human trafficking.
In "Joy" a woman from Nigeria comes to Vienna and works as a prostitute. Sudabeh Mortezai has been researching for months on this film. To have a chance in Europe, there is only one option for these women, says the director.
Sudabeh Mortezai: The genesis was a bit complicated, but to simplify it very much: I already got interest in the Nigerian community in Vienna at "Macondo", because I met a few people from Nigeria and I felt like to do something with Nigeria. I came across the topic of trafficking very quickly in the research, read some books and articles on the subject. It shocked me so much that women exploit other women and that these Madames are actually always themselves prostitutes and victims of human trafficking and have turned the tables, and that was of course incredibly fascinating for me as a filmmaker and as a woman particularly shocking. How does it work that a woman who has experienced it herself now becomes a perpetrator, and then it started to develop.
Wellinski: Can you perhaps tell how you then constructed the story from your research? Did you also talk to affected women?
Mortezai: Yes, very, very much. So I had a lot of conversations with affected women. In the beginning it was very, very difficult to get to them and in general they opened up, and then it got better, the better I understood how I can lead the conversation. I did a research trip to Nigeria, specifically to Benin City, where most women come from. It's of course a feature film, it's a fictionalized story, but a lot of real stories and documentary research have gone into the movie.
|"They are accomplices in a system where they are victims and perpetrators at the same time," says director Sudabeh Mortezai about her protagonists. (picture alliance / dpa / Photo: Robert Newald)|
The director Sudabeh Mortezai at the award ceremony of the Austrian Film Prize 2015 (picture alliance / dpa / Photo: Robert Newald)
"This has a lot to do with highly traumatic things"
Wellinski: That's what I wanted to say, so much research, because you can almost imagine a documentary film. What could you do with a fictional movie to do even more work on the subject than, for example, with a classic documentary?
Mortezai: Well, apart from the fact that I really wanted to make a feature film, also from an artistic point of view, I must also say that I would find that ethically very strange to make a documentary film now with affected women. It is very private, it has a lot to do with very traumatic things. I think most women would not want to reveal these things in front of the camera, and I would not want them to, and then make faces, or things like that. This is so reportage-like, that would not have interested me anyway, and so I have actresses who play roles that know, so to speak, this world very well and bring their own stories and experiences, but that's not their story that tells
Wellinski: There are many places we visit in the film, and a particularly interesting place is, of course, where the women live together. It's a community. Of course they know each other locally, that's not a family, and yet I have the feeling that these women, although they prostitute themselves, although their passports are confiscated and they can not really prevail against the Madame, they braid their hair, also blaspheme a bit in common. Why was it important for you to show this community as a family, as a substitute family?
Mortezai: Because I have often experienced it in research, because I felt that the women in this emergency community, in which they are thrown together, are really building a new family, and I think that is also very human No matter how the situation is or how hopeless, we get something out of it, and the joy of life and joie de vivre is still there. I find that not even so amazing, it is human, and on the one hand I found it beautiful, but on the other hand also very ambivalent, because at the same time each fights alone, they are also rivals, they are accomplices in a system where they are The victim and perpetrator at the same time, but nevertheless there is also such a sisterhood, I had the feeling, where they are very close, partly because they also have to live very close together, and of course there is a lot of intimacy, and there they do the best of it.
"They swear they will pay off all debts"
Wellinski: The interesting thing is when Joy Precious - that's the name of the young woman who finally introduces her to the job - we realize that Joy has opportunities, too. On the one hand, she has a daughter, on the other hand, she also has a suitor, who says I buy you free from here. The women are often still there, and the interesting thing is that is a clip to Nigeria, because they speak of a curse, of a spell?
Mortezai: Yeah, that's such an integral part of these systems of Human trafficking or trafficking from Nigeria, this Juju curse or Juju oath. That's another name just for what we commonly know as voodoo. There are those native doctors who have their shrine, and usually, when a young woman or girl wants to be trafficked or trafficked to Europe, she is taken to such a native doctor and has to make an oath there. They swear that they will pay off all debts and that they will never cooperate with the police. That they will not betray traffickers. And they really are terrified that they will die if they do not keep their word or that they get sick, they will go insane and the family members will be harmed. So that's a very strong control tool.
Wellinski: That's what they do. They throw us really purely in this community in "Joy". I found that very impressive, even the places where you filmed. Can you possibly tell me how you did - after all, it's also research - the filming locations - of course there's the street, then maybe the apartment where the women live is too much - how did you go about doing that, well, to produce such a hard authenticity?
Mortezai: This hard authenticity was very important to me. So I am glad that you put it this way, because I really wanted to push the audience in the middle, and everything, from the equipment to the camerawork, costumes, is designed in such a way that there is no escape for us as spectators but that we are in the middle of it with the women. Of course, everything is very much based on research. The places are already very carefully selected and also very precisely made. There, where they were not found so to speak, we have furnished this apartment. Only that was a huge compliment for me, for example, and also for the outfitters, when the women turned the first time in the apartment and one of the women said, and where are the residents, who moved out for the time of shooting. She was convinced that Nigerians live there, because she meant, even the right foods are in the kitchen, and that was so important to me that the details are very accurate, not only for the audience, but also for the actresses, that they can empathize very strongly with these spaces.
Wellinski: That does indeed happens in Austria, and every now and then the film opens in Austria, which we know, for example. There is a scene where Joy sits in front of an NGO employee who wants to help her out. It means, ultimately, a deal should be closed. Joy says something against the Madame and may be free, maybe not free. It's not a good deal for her. In the end, no matter what she wants to do, she is powerless, I felt.
Mortezai: Yeah, that's what I wanted to show, how insanely few perspectives these women have, and I believe that once you really understand that, you also understand why a victim becomes a perpetrator. So if there are no other perspectives and the only way to get out there is simply to become the perpetrator, then everyone will do it, so then suddenly it will not be that special, it will be universal. The NGO is just such a thing. For example, in Austria, if you are in an asylum procedure, you are not allowed to work. There is an exception to that, one is allowed to work as a prostitute. This is very specifically the law in Austria. In other European countries, it is of course partly different.
This means that these women often apply for asylum, which Madame knows very well, someday they will be deported, and she will not feel sorry for them, they should make principal money until then, and while this process is running, they can quite legally work as Prostitutes. There is governmental help, and there are NGOs trying to get the women out of it, but the legislation is lagging behind. You can not offer these women so much. Well, there are shelters and victim protection programs, and a lot is done for the women, but in the end, it is quite realistic that the woman is still deported. There is no residual certainty that she says I'm telling out now, and that's why I can get asylum and get a right to stay. It does not work like that. And that's just what I wanted to show: there are always some hopeful windows for Joy, which open a bit and then close again.
Joy is a young Nigerian woman caught in the vicious cycle of sex trafficking. She works the streets to pay off debts to her exploiter Madame, while supporting her family in Nigeria and hoping for a better life for her little daughter in Vienna. Joy struggles to understand her role in this merciless system of exploitation when she is instructed by Madame to supervise Precious, a teenage girl fresh from Nigeria who is not ready to accept her fate.