“It was a chance to represent these kind of people, the voiceless”: Adam Bessa on Harka
Harka is the feature debut of writer/director Lofty Nathan, which follows Ali, whose already precarious existence in Tunisia is suddenly plunged into even direr circumstances after the death of his father. Ridden with his late parent’s debts and the added responsibility of his sisters’ care, he must do whatever he can to keep his head above water.
With the title taking on a dual meaning of a slang word for a migrant who crosses the Mediterranean illegally by boat and “to burn”, the film is inspired by Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation that sparked the Arab Spring in 2010, while also ruminating on its aftermath a decade later as the promised liberation has failed to materialise. Drenched in sweat and with the reek of gasoline seemingly wafting from the screen, Ali’s tenacity in resisting the poverty and endless exploitation that is likely his fate bristles in each fibre of French-Tunisian actor Adam Bessa’s body, making his every move simultaneously nail-biting and engrossing to watch. There’s often talk of how we’ve become apathetic in our attitudes towards the suffering of others worlds away from us, but films such as these make it impossible not to feel an urgent empathy. Like in the moment Ali catches the eye of a European tourist at a fancy Tunisian beach bar, Harka demonstrates the ability of cinema to reach across the divide and find human connection where formerly there was only indifference.
The Upcoming had the chance to speak with the film’s star( who won the Cannes Film Festival award for best actor in 2022) about the appeal of the role, how he saw Ali as someone who refuses to become a victim despite all the life throws at him, and his borderline method acting approach to bringing a visceral authenticity to the character, from spending long hours under the heat of the baking sun to time alongside smugglers. We also briefly discussed his unconventional route into acting, the forthcoming reprisal of his role in Extraction 2 and the contrast between working on mega-budget films and indie projects.
Watch the trailer for Harka here: