For their latest film, Flemish filmmakers Adil el Arbi and Bilall Fallah made some unusual choices. Now it remains to be seen how they will turn out. ‘We shall see. Deep down, this feels like the right way.’

    Berend Jan BocktingOctober 5, 202212:37

    Cannes, May 2022. Adil el Arbi (34) and Bilall Fallah (36), the Flemish specialists in genre film, have gradually become the crown princes of Hollywood. While the world after their Bad Boys for Life (2020) alternately shuttled in and out of lockdowns, they delivered the TV series Ground (2021) and Marvel series Ms. marvel (2022). The turning period for batgirl was almost over – nobody knew that film studio Warner Bros would cancel the release of their superhero film after disappointing test screenings. That news would seriously spoil their party last August.

    But in May the sun still shines continuously. They bounce. Because they also have their most personal and radically idiosyncratic Rebel rounded. A jihad musical, if there are words at all to describe their film about Brussels boys who travel to Syria to fight for IS. The film will also have its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

    Rebel call them artistic, close, personal. “This isn’t Marvel. Not a superhero movie. No Bad Boys‘ says El Arbi. ‘We think it’s important to alternate big films with personal projects,’ adds Fallah. “It’s extremely fun to make movies in Hollywood. With all the toys, all the budget. But at the same time you can’t take the risks that we do with it Rebel have taken. We’ve done things where we thought: is this going to work? We shall see. Deep down, this feels like the right way.’


    They tried to make a time document, says El Arbi, like Oliver Stone did with Platoon and Born on the 4th of July. ‘We are looking at the time around 2012. A large group of young people of Moroccan origin, Muslims like us, from Brussels, often the same age, suddenly left for Syria. Ultimately, you see that radicalization is taking place there. A mafia organization is created that uses a radical interpretation of Islam to eliminate others.’

    Fallah: ‘We saw several boys from our neighborhood leave. That was confronting to see. Why did they go? That question became an important motivation for making this film.’

    El Arbi: ‘We had a passion, a future: making films. The boys who went to Syria lacked all that. They felt like they screwed up their lives, thought they could do something good there. And more than that: they’re going to be heroes, superheroes. Add the religious component to that, because when they die they also go to paradise.’

    Rebel Statue


    The idea of ​​partly shaping that history as a glorified musical may not have crossed the minds of many filmmakers, but the approach was obvious to both Flemish people. El Arbi: ‘Sometimes it is difficult to express thoughts, emotions and the entire complexity of an event in pure dialogue. Normal documentary style scenes did not suffice. Music is a universal language, even if you don’t understand the lyrics. You feel the drive of the characters in the poetry of the song and dance.’

    The foundation is formed by their Arab culture, he says, which is intertwined with music. ‘We chose a female adjusting voice, comparable to the Sheherazade, the narrator of One thousand and one nights. The film can be seen as a pamphlet against IS. And IS was against music, against female voices. Porn for the ears, says an extremist in the film. Then a musical is the best form.’

    They weren’t 100 percent sure about all their choices, El Arbi says again. ‘But if it does work, the level of the film will reach a transcendental place. Think of the frog rain in Magnolia. The apparition in un prophète. Then you create scenes that you have to experience, which we cannot describe either.’

    Like the final chord of Rebel, in which a torture scene transforms into dance. “It’s like being delirious with the character,” says El Arbi. “As if the road to paradise has been started.”

    Adil & Bilalli

    2014 Image

    2015 black

    2018 patser

    2020 Bad Boys for Life

    2021 Ground (series)

    2022 Ms. marvel (series)

    2022 Rebel