Bonne Mère (Good Mother), as seen by Hafsia Herzi

Picture of the movie Bonne mère (Good mother) © DR


"As long as I'm still standing, I'll stay strong". So says Nora, a cleaner and fearless mother from a housing estate in northern Marseille. Just like the Bonne Mère Cathedral towering over the city, she watches over her clan of three children, including one son in prison following a robbery at a petrol station. The idea for Bonne Mère (Good Mother) has been on Hafsia Herzi's mind for years. After making her mark at Cannes in her roles in L’Apollonide (House of Tolerance) and La Source des femmes (The Source), she now presents her second feature film in the Un Certain Regard selection.

Tell us about the origins of your film.

The character of the fearless mother has fascinated me since I was little. When I grew up it was just me and my mother, who was a cleaner. I lost my father when I was very young. I  admire this woman so much: when we woke up in the morning she had already prepared everything for us before going to work. I wanted to make a film about her and about those women who completely forget about themselves in order to care for their children.

What was the atmosphere like on the shoot ? 

It was great, I like it when there are a lot of people about. They were all non-professional actors, apart from the aunt character. We rehearsed a lot, to create a strong connection. I can say that we are bonded for life now and some of them want to continue acting.

Can you tell us any anecdotes from the set ?

Filming in Marseille was mostly about helping one another. I put the people in the city to work. For example, the caretaker of the building was a childhood friend. He helped us get access to the rooftops. I needed to shoot a sunrise with a panoramic view. It was the only possible time to film from that spot because for the rest of the day and night, there are lookouts on all the roofs, to warn if the police are approaching. So that was quite a tense moment.

What would you like to say about the star of your film, Halima Benhamed ?

During the casting for the role of Nora's daughter, Sabrina Benhamed, one of the young women auditioning, was accompanied by a woman of around fifty who was always looking into the distance. Sabrina told me that she was her mother. We were introduced and I suggested that she audition for the role of Nora. She laughed and refused straight away. She didn't feel she was an actor. I didn't insist. I waited, and I asked her again. I got another refusal. She's a very shy lady. I finally succeeded in convincing her. She did some screen tests and it was magic. Her gaze convinced me. Halima was an artistic revelation straight away. I have to admit I was losing hope before I met her. I rewrote the role for her, making the character younger.

What are your influences and what drove you to become a director ?

I've always enjoyed watching people. I come from Marseille and you come across a lot of strong personalities there, which has always inspired me. My ambition to go into the cinema was confirmed when I saw La Graine et le Mulet (The Secret of the Grain). That was the point when I became aware of the director’s work and I said to myself that I would do that one day. I also gave the director of the film, Abdellatif Kechiche, one of my treatments to read at the time. He encouraged me and gave me books on writing screenplays.