Noticias Festival
Interview with Abdullah Mohammad Saad, director of Rehana

Abdullah Mohammad Saad: “The world would be more livable and tolerant if we tried to understand human ambiguity”



Abdullah Mohammad Saad: “The world would be more livable and tolerant if we tried to understand human ambiguity”


In Rehana, Abdullah Mohammad Saad’s camera witnesses an adjunct professor’s pursuit of justice at a university hospital. The second film by the Bangladeshi director is a reflection on ethics, toxic masculinity and family conciliation in line with the urgent cinema of authors such as the Dardenne brothers. Political, committed and tense, Rehana shoots against a conservative society, permanently haunted by machismo, in which change never seems to come.


By Wang Muyan


  • Since your debut feature Live From Dhaka, your films have focused on the journey of your character ’s personal life and also on the moral and existential dilemmas that they experience. What sparked your interests in such stories?
    • I cannot say for sure where my interests in these themes and narratives originated—perhaps it is because I have always felt a deep connection to complex people who are often judged for the difficult choices they made in their lives.


  • Are those difficult choices what lead to the complexity of these people?

  • Yes, definitely—what we want in our lives and how we want it is an age-old dilemma. For me, to be able to see life from someone else’s point of view is something that I have always been drawn to. While novels may perhaps do better in terms of realizing and providing an insight into the mechanics of human nature, it is with films that you can really make people feel with their guts.

  • As someone who was not formally trained in filmmaking, how did you become a filmmaker?
  • I did not grow up with cinema in my life. I was neither someone who has been into films from an early age nor was watching movies in cinema something my family encouraged. There were many other things in my life that I have tried which failed pretty miserably. I guess you can say that filmmaking as a practice was something that slowly grew on me.

  • What are these “other things”? Maybe, the sense of failure from these “other things” was what pushed you to find a way out through filmmaking…


  • Things like music! I wanted to be a musician for a while, but that did not work out so well. Now that I think about it, perhaps you are right. I guess with filmmaking, I could feel like doing something decent with my life. It is not that I have this uncontrollable urge to share, but it is more of having a profession that can give one a sense of some control over one’s life—even if this sense of control is not always real.

  • Who are the directors that you feel you have been influenced by?


  • There are so many! Right at this moment, I would probably name Michael Haneke, Edward Yang, and the Dardenne Brothers.


  • What inspired Rehana. What was your writing process like?
  • I think my three elder sisters, and their profound influences were my key inspiration. Alongside this, watching my young nieces and nephews as they grew up got me thinking about the many questions that I eventually attempted to ask and explore through Rehana and her journey. Besides, I have always been very interested in the relationship dynamics between men and women, and how we treat each other. In the very beginning, I did not have that many exciting ideas—what stayed with me throughout was really this image of a stubborn woman. I struggled a lot with writing the screenplay and it took me quite a few drafts to finally understand the true nature of my interest in Rehana and her story.

  • From this stubborn woman to the vivid Rehana, what is this true nature of your interest? Is Rehana based on someone in real life?
  • I think I was trying to find out what Rehana is truly made of. It all started with her being a witness to a terrible act, then slowly transitioning into some kind of perpetrator, only to eventually become a victim. This almost triangular journey of going from being a witness to perpetrator to victim while still trying to raise her daughter in what she thinks is the right way is what kept me attracted to the story and continued to write the screenplay. In a certain sense, Rehana is indeed drawn from reality—but as an amalgamation of figures from my personal experiences.

  • One of the most interesting aspects of the film is how ambiguous Rehana is as a character, despite the seemingly binary, black-or-white mentality she appears to hold. Do you feel that this ambiguity is what reveals the truth of humanity?
  • I could not agree with you more. I always found this ambiguity in human nature to be fascinating. Our constant need to judge makes everything so difficult. Perhaps, if we could only try to understand this ambiguity, the world might be a little bit more tolerant and liveable.

  • While Rehana’s plight is certainly a microcosm of Bangladeshi society, how can she find a place in a corrupt system?
  • I am not actively trying to portray a corrupt system—corruption does not interest me. I prefer to leave it to the journalists. I do not know if a person like Rehana can really find a place in this world. While I am not a terribly optimistic person, the truth is, you will find Rehana everywhere, struggling to find their place and often failing.

  • The characters in your films are often on the move, full of urgency and tension. How do you work with your crew to capture this state?
  • Generally, I do not present all the complexities and precision of my mise-en-scène to my cinematographer and actors at the very beginning of the scene. It is only after they have internalized the essential elements and components of the sequence that I will start adding more positions and layers to the scene bit by bit, take by take. Physically-speaking, it is very challenging for them, but that is the only way I could capture the intensities, emotions, and composition that I need.

  • How many takes did you do for every scene in general? How did you add the positions or layers?
  • On average, I did from anything from twentyfive to thirty takes, but there are, of course, exceptions. For example, we only did one take of the scene when Rehana was crying in the washroom—but we had been preparing for these kinds of scenes for a long. At the stage when we shot them, the actress Azmeri Haque Badhon was electric. It is definitely hard to memorise the cues and perform naturally if I give my actors five to six marks all at once from the get-go. Naturally, I have to do it slowly. For the first couple of takes, there would not be more than two marks. Then, I will begin introducing new elements, or layers, to the scene. Sometimes, it can be a passing character that forces our lead characters to act or move differently, other times it can be a short new dialogue, or an attitude that change the entire dynamics of the scene.

  • How did you direct the impressive performance of Azmer i Haque Badhon? Did you rehearse a lot?
  • Yes, there were a lot of rehearsals—we did it for over nine months alongside constant discussions of Rehana and her character. Badhon was absolutely committed to the film from day one. She quite literally put everything else aside for the film, and trusted me with her life. She opened her heart and soul to her character, and I think that was the key to why she performed so brilliantly. I only had to keep the atmosphere right so that she feels safe and gives her best. It was electric to watch her transformation, and I am extremely lucky to have worked with her.

  • From the rough monochrome of Live From Dhaka to the coldness of Rehana, what goes behind how you pick the tone and texture of your images?
  • In the case of Rehana, it is quite hard to explain. I guess I felt that the bluish tone is what is best suited for capturing the sense of claustrophobia and suppressed anger that is thrumming under Rehana’s skin. This is much unlike Live From Dhaka, which was actually quite an easy decision—because Dhaka has always been black and white in my mind, though I cannot name the exact reason why. The decision to go monochrome for Live From Dhaka was also partly practical as it is cheaper and posed less of a strain on the limited resources my team and I were working with.

  • Does blue represent tension and anger for you? 

  • Blue was one of many elements that helped me create the uncertainty in the air, which precipitates the tension and, sometimes, anger. There are other elements, such as those long never-ending corridors which also contributed to the intense atmosphere.

  • In addition to capturing the characters closely with handheld photography, the camera in your works also has this sense of instability that mirrors the characters’ psyches.


  • We are very close friends in real life, and we tend to start discussing the movement and rhythm of the film from early stages of writing. For Rehana Maryam Noor, Tuhin had to prepare himself physically and mentally for more than a year in order to go through this challenging production. Even though I am obsessed with precise composition and blocking, Tuhin understands that at the end of the day, the most important thing for him was to be truly present in the moment and capture the performance as it unfolds in front of the camera.

  • Was the camera shaking with the characters done on purpose?


  • Yes! I wanted my audiences’ experience to be as visceral as possible.

  • Your editing style is often harsh, even brutal, especially between transitions

and at the end of a scene. For you, does the editing itself serve the narrative or the rhythm?

  • I am always very anxious about the rhythm. For me, I think what is important to my

editing choices is not being overly sentimental and explanatory, which may be why they

often feel harsh. Another reason is that the editing style reflects the exact reality that my

characters live their lives, which is gritty, uncompromising, and raw. 

  • But with such harshness and brutality, the sentiments of your film do turn out

even stronger…

  • I hope so. I do my best to treat my audience with respect, and give them just enough so that they can feel and interpret our film the way they want to. Naturally, it is a very thin line and you can never be sure of what kind of reactions you get.

  • What is the current state of Bangladeshi filmmaking, especially for independent production?


  • We have a growing number of independent filmmakers who keep making films despite all the obstacles and limited assistance from state bodies. It is important to note that while Rehana may be the first Bangladeshi film in Cannes’ Official Selection, we have been present regularly in the international scene over the last decade. For me, I very much prefer to make films with my close friends and colleagues. I do not need much—their dedication and sacrifices are enough for me.


WANG Muyan is a Chinese film critic based in Paris. He writes for Chinese news magazine, The Paper, is a regular contributor for Film Comment in United States, and writes occasionally for French papers. He translated Bresson par Bresson into Chinese. He was a jury member for Screen International both in Cannes and in Berlin.