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The Conversation: Producer Saïd Ben Saïd

For the past sixteen years, Franco-Tunisian producer Saïd Ben Saïd has been steadfastly supporting the works of many a European maverick auteur. Beginning in 2000 while working for UGC (Film Union General) with Eric Rochant’s Total Western, Saïd quickly became affiliated with Andre Techine for the 2001 title Far, which competed in Venice. For the remainder of the decade, he would work with Techine twice more (bringing 2007’s The Witnesses to the Berlin competition and winning Sami Bouajila a Best Supporting Actor Cesar before moving onto 2009’s The Girl on the Train), and a variety of other notable directors, such as Francis Veber (Ruby & Quentin, 2003), Krzysztof Zanussi (Black Sun, 2007), and Barbet Schroeder’s Venice competitor Inju: The Beast in the Shadow (2008).

After founding his own production company, SBS Films, Saïd has risen to prominence with his carefully groomed crop of rule breaking auteurs. He produced Alain Corneau’s last film, Love Crime, along with Brian De Palma’s 2012 remake Passion. The Venice Film Festival has programmed many of Saïd’s productions, including the recent De Palma, Roman Polanski’s Carnage (2011) and Philippe Garrel’s Jealousy (2013).

Saïd first came to Cannes in the Directors’ Fortnight with Techine’s 2011 film, Unforgiveable, an adaptation of a Philippe Djian novel. Since then, he’s been back several times, entering the main competition in 2013 with Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s A Castle in Italy, and again in 2014 with David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars. 2015 snagged Philippe Garrel’s In the Shadow of Women the opening night slot at the Directors’ Fortnight, but SBS scores his greatest victory yet on the Croisette with two new titles in the 2016 competition, Paul Verhoeven’s Elle (also a Djian adaptation), and Kleber Mendonca Filho’s sophomore film, Aquarius. The year will also see the unveiling of SBS’ latest collaboration with Pascal Bonitzer (he’s produced three of his titles) with Tout suite de maintenant, and next year the return of Walter Hill with Tomboy: A Revenger’s Tale, and yet another new project with Philippe Garrel. Here’s a look at five favorites produced by Saïd Ben Saïd:

5. Maps to the Stars (2014) – Dir. David Cronenberg
There’s as much to love as there is to disdain about this pulpy Hollywood nightmare from Cronenberg. As far as Los Angeles soap operas go, Maps to the Stars could have been better served with a tighter edit as it labors to be as much of a cultural parody as it is a supernatural thriller (this would make a great double feature with Zoe Cassavetes’ Day Out of Days, by the way). But as grating or underwhelming as some of its supporting characters are (Robert Pattinson comes to mind), it features a wickedly entertaining performance from Julianne Moore as the laughably named Havana Segrand, an actress hungry to reclaim the celebrity she feels she’s owed.

4. In the Shadow of Women (2015) – Dir. Philippe Garrel
Philippe Garrel presents one of his most compelling (and efficient) narratives in quite some time with In the Shadow of Women, even if he is mining mercilessly familiar territory considering his filmography, where troubled lovers and evaporated passions abound. Beautifully shot in black and white 35mm, it’s hard not to dislike the film, which explores a trio of characters wrapped up in various stages of infidelity.

3. Love Crime (2010) – Dir. Alain Corneau
Lovers of Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct should love this tawdry and playfully murderous office drama which plays like All About Eve meets Working Girl with ramped up lesbian overtones. Kristin Scott Thomas is bitchy perfection as a manipulative executive who abuses and woos her ingénue assistant, Ludivine Sagnier. De Palma’s 2012 remake doesn’t quite nail the same balance of vulgar eloquence, thanks in part to casting choices (Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace) hobbling the narrative’s sleazy possibilities.

2. The Witnesses (2007) – Dir. Andre Techine
Techine tackles the AIDs crisis in France with this 1984 Parisian set ensemble drama which features fantastic turns from Johan Libereau, Michel Blanc, Emmanuelle Beart, and Sami Bouajila (who nabbed a Cesar as Best Supporting Actor). Less caustic and manipulative than many similar American examinations of the same material from decades prior, it’s one of Techine’s best titles from his later period.

1. Carnage (2011) – Dir. Roman Polanski
If you’re a Polanski fan, it’s hard not to love his provocative adaptations of stage plays, including Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1970) and Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden (1994). Based on Yasmina Reza’s lauded play and starring a quartet of major actors in Polanski’s production (Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Walt, Kate Winslet), critical consensus was lukewarm upon release, drawing unfavorable comparison to the stage production. Several years later, removed from the heat of the moment, fans of histrionics should appreciate this study in deconstruction, despite some of its uneven bits. Waltz and especially Winslet are quite entertaining here.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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