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Maher El Khair, a “hero” shaped in the silt of the Nile

On Monday, Maher left the brickyard where he works, in Meroe, the ancient city of Nubia, in Sudan. He kissed his wife, who is due in three weeks; took the bus to Khartoum – six hours through the desert – then a plane to Istanbul and from there another to Nice. It was the first time he had left the banks of the Nile, where he saw his hands plunged into this clay, black from the silt of the river, from which the building material is extracted there. And that’s how we found him, handsome as a prince, straight as an i, observing the hustle and bustle of Cannes with an angelic smile. At 32, Maher El Khair is the hero of the film The dam, by Ali Cherri, presented at the Directors’ Fortnight.

” The hero ” : this is how he is now called, at his home in Meroe. Since, in December 2017, Maher El Khair met a young Lebanese who landed in the village, bag on his back, with a camera. He first took him for one of those rather rare tourists who come to visit the ruins of the Nubian pyramids. But the man explained to him that it was the huge dam that Omar Al-Bashir, the former dictator, had built upstream by the Chinese, which interested him. Ali Cherri, that was his name, was an artist and videographer, he explained to her, and he worked on water.

intelligence of the senses

This one will come back several times. For his artistic work – he won the Silver Lion at the Venice Biennale in April with a video triptych on the dam: The Milk of Dreams: of Men and Gods and Mud –but also because the meeting with Maher, and this dazzling contrast between the green banks of the river and the merciless desert that surrounds it, inspired him with the idea of ​​a fiction film.

Ali Cherri, director: “This somewhat silent character, cut off from the group, is the same in the film as in life”

Maher the character, illico offers to also be Maher the actor. He who recounts with a greedy smile his love of James Bond, Jackie Chan or Jason Statham in The carrier, toying with the idea of ​​playing. Handsome, seductive (expressive sigh when asked the question), handball player in the provincial team, the young man discovered cinema on cable channels at his parents’ house; in the cafes of the neighboring town, Karima, where a few chairs around a television set are enough to improvise sessions, or in the only room in the region, the rare times he traveled four hours by road to reach Dongola, to attend a screening there.

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