Born in Tunisia, Michka Saäl settled in Montreal during the 1980s, completing two film degrees. Between 1989 and 2017, she wrote and directed 13 films, both fiction and documentary. In July 2017, she passed away suddenly in Montreal from an illness. She left 2 of her 13 films in post-production and an unpublished collection of stories, all of which will be released by 2019.
Michka Saäl wrote and directed 13 films in her 30-year career, the last two completed after her death in 2017. Click on a “Learn more” to explore her work. You`ll find links to trailers, excerpts or the film itself; highlights of reviews from journals and newspapers, including several links; and behind-the-scenes stories about her films collected from interviews, articles, and many members of her film crews.
“A film about characters whose luminosity shines somewhere between life and creation, and between ethics and aesthetics. What they do best is live their life.”
“my gaze, however informed by my research, remains a Western point of view — personal, partial and fragmented — on a Chinese reality. And I claim the right to be subjective.”
The Violin on the Canvas
“Like me, Eleonora is a foreigner and Jewish, and an artist. She is the focus, but through her, I am also speaking of myself.”
“I think there is a story here of art and survival that is literally worth the struggle.”
Prisoners of Beckett
"Certain moments are more 'documentary' than others. Ultimately, it's this endless slipping between reality and fiction that excites me the most."
“a film of 'confused feelings', of blood and tears, of talking about sex and making love, and of PROSCIUTTO, cafe latte and panettone..."
Far from Where?
“The cold, the snow, winter in black and white, all to reinforce missing the warmth, colours and scents of Tunisia."
A Great Day in Paris
"Beyond stories of discrimination, racism and exile, a film about how the traditions of jazz get transmitted and expanded. What if the real identiTy of these musicians lies in their music itself?"
“The abuse, harassment and racism that minorities were facing from certain officers woke me up to the fact that people have a right to their differences.”
The Sleeping Tree Dreams of its Roots
“When you transplant a tree, you bring the roots. Otherwise it dies. The same is true for immigrants. They carry their past and their culture as an intimate part of themselves.”
“I see Spoon as a tentative answer to a question I still ask myself: Does writing poetry erase steel bars, defy time, justify survival and create space for inner freedom?”
The Snail Position
“we came up with the idea of a snail as a typical immigrant who carries his house on his back. At the same time, the title refers to a scene that’s a little erotic.”
Nowhere, the Sea
“an image of a woman running through the forest covered in blood, which, once it entered my consciousness, would not let go.”
The Hairdressers’ Moon
During the 2000s, Michka finished her first and only book of linked stories, La Lune des coiffeurs (literally, The Hairdressers’ Moon). It will be published in 2019 in French only; it may one day be published in English. In the meantime, an English translation from the book jacket is presented below.
Locked in a root cellar for punishment, the narrator of The Hairdressers’ Moon discovers a forlorn notebook and a chewed-up pencil. A beam of moonlight illuminates the cellar, and she writes a story until dawn to calm her fears – to not be alone. A first act towards consolation through art.
The door creaks. The tiny yellow notebook throbs in the hollow of my shirt. I am ready.
If the story ended there, it would be touching, almost nice. Ready for what — to plunge into my own forbidden myths, to stretch across an entire life of night terrors and primal anxieties, to remain in a waking dream and become a full-time seamstress of these ragged memories?
Of course the story does not end there. Michka Saäl always pushed to the limit and beyond, regardless of consequences.
With her first short feature in 1989, Far from Where?, Michka Saäl seduced Quebec filmgoers with a soft and poetic voice that recalled a childhood in North Africa caught between the heat of the desert and the mysteries of the Sea, while enveloped by the images of snow and ice of her adopted country.
Thirty years after her first film, as if time has been suspended, this voice returns in her first book. The narrator of the film, her attempt at running away from home blocked by the Sea, succeeds in the book at crossing the ocean and finding her lost mother in France. She grows up, always searching for her place in the world, overwhelmed by her “new” Jewish identity. A second escape to Israel, a return to France and then to Canada, a refuge where she dreams of her roots. She confides: I am making up nothing, but my imagination belongs to me… I want to scrub my memories until they bleed.
Like her films, The Hairdressers’ Moon slides between fact and fiction, the present and the past. It insists on the importance of memory, and adopts art in all its forms as a user’s manual for living. Not surprising, then, that the book borrows freely from images, details, memories and stories from the life of Michka Saäl, and her films as well, both documentary and fiction. Knowledge of her films and her life might add further insight to the book, but ultimately will raise more questions than it answers. Which is what she would have wanted.
Chakchouka is a Maghreb dish of poached eggs in tomato sauce mixed with tomatoes, chili, onions and other spices. In Arabic slang, especially in Tunisia, the word simply means “mixture”. The Chakchouka pages offer up a mix of ideas with a distinctly saälien flavour.
Viewing Michka’s films through a feminist lens
A compelling article about Michka’s work by Kiva Reardon in the December 2018 issue of cléo, a journal of film and feminism, published in Toronto. Cover art by Chloe Cushman.
Michka in Transylvania
Young filmmakers from around the world attending the Aristoteles Workshop in Romania in August 2018 are watching Master Class, a short film on Michka's work assembled by Michel Giroux and Mark Foss. They also saw Prisoners of Beckett and excerpts from Spoon in an outdoor screening. Thanks to Thierry Garrel, one of the producers of Beckett, for sharing the works of Michka Saäl to a new generation of filmmakers.
Michka and the question of time
In this short rough cut, filmed by students at DOC Cévennes in Lasalle, France, in 2006, Michka reflects on one of her favourite topics — the representation of time in Prisoners of Beckett.
“I make films to meet incredible people, and to share with others. Yes, I make films so I am not alone. I like to blur the distinction between documentary and fiction and to blur the nature of time — since we are talking about time in this festival. In this film, time doesn’t exist. It is completely suspended. The film becomes a hall of mirrors. There is the time represented by the story, there is time as it exists in “theatre” and there is time as it’s created by the filming of the play.”