Filmmaker Ziad Doueiri was born in Lebanon, studied film in California (where he worked as Quentin Tarantino’s camera operator), and currently lives in France. Given his many relocations, it’s no surprise that questions of cultural identity, roots, and belonging would appear in his work. His third and latest film, The Attack, which opens in New York this Friday, follows Amin (Ali Suliman), a successful Israeli-Arab surgeon who learns that his wife was involved in a suicide-bombing attack. Despite its loaded premise, The Attack, and Doueiri himself, ultimately cares less about politics than with adapting the thriller genre to the more heartfelt enigmas of intimacy, betrayal and assimilation, whether into foreign cultures or committed marriages.
The Attack is very much about hybrid identity and double consciousness. Is that something that’s close to your own experience?
I’ve lived between three countries all my life. I grew up as an Arab in Lebanon, then was a student in a French school, and then lived in the USA. To be immersed in a culture without totally adopting it has been a never-ending process for me. In all three societies I’ve lived in—the Lebanese, the French and the American—I’ve always felt that I was marginal. I’m not a typical Lebanese or French or American, and neither are my friends. So this idea of multiple identity—of integrating while keeping a distance—is something I think about a lot.
How did you come to the States?
I finished at a French high school in Lebanon and wanted to study film. I packed my stuff and came to California.
How did you first team up with Quentin Tarantino?
I got a call from a producer who was a friend. She said there was a low-budget film that needed help. I did it as a favor. And the film was Reservoir Dogs. That’s how we teamed up—and he kept on hiring the same crew. As simple as that.
What did you learn from him—either to imitate or avoid?
Quentin has an incredible influence on a lot of filmmakers because of his uniqueness and his compulsiveness. What I like the most about him is how he lets himself go. He just takes his character as far as possible. He’s a compulsive dialogist and expresses himself so well with words. But I can’t say I’m particularly influenced by his films. I love his films, but they are not my main influences.
What are your main influences?
I grew up in Beirut watching films all the time. Everything that came out in the States came out a week later in Beirut. Everything used to come to Lebanon. But it wasn’t until I started studying film in California that I began appreciating it even more. Ron Fricke affected me a lot. Films like Koyaanisqatsi, Chronos, Samsara. I was so taken by his visual storytelling, his imagery.
What attracted you about the novel [by Yasmina Khadra] on which The Attack is based?
I read it on the beach in Beirut and was captivated. Originally I didn’t want to do anything about the Middle East. But the book is about more than the politics. It’s about a love story, about betrayal, about interrogation.
The Attack has a two-part structure: half in Tel Aviv, half in Nablus. What was your experience shooting and collaborating in such a fraught place?
The Israelis were incredibly professional and welcoming. The experience affected me a lot. I had to put aside my prejudice, my politics, in order to work with the crew. And the people I met were so dedicated to the film. I was deeply impressed by that.
Are you worried the film will be seen through a political lens?
It’s already been banned in the Arab world. Lebanon pulled it last week. This was very upsetting for me and I’m planning to contest it. I think it’s a lost battle, but I have to fight it.
The film is about a man who has loved his wife without fully knowing her. He’s always learning about her—even after she has died.
This is the fundamental question of the film. Do you really know the person you love? The betrayal in the film is not sexual, but it’s devastating. We wanted to build the film as a love story—and the complexity of intimacy and love. It’s not about the conflict, the conflict is in the background.
For more on The Attack, see its trailer below.