Wearing a button-down white shirt and faded grey jeans, with a wide smile brightening his face, Ali Suliman looks nothing like Dabaan, the psychotic, cold-blooded police officer in the new thriller “Zinzana” (‘Rattle the Cage’). The 38-year-old plays the role with such skilfulness (and creepiness) that I was a little anxious about meeting him.
“Zinzana”, also starring renowned Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri, is a neo-noir thriller set in a small town police station ‘somewhere in Arabia’. It's directed by the Emirati filmmaker Majid Al Ansari and premiered at Fantastic Fest in Texas and has since received rave reviews, with critics calling Al Ansari the ‘Tarantino of the Middle East’.
“Zinzana” begins with Talal (Bakri), a recently divorced, recovering alcoholic, waking up in a jail cell, when the smooth-talking, ingratiating police officer Dabaan (Suliman) arrives to the police station, kills the only cop on duty and puts his captive through physical and psychological torture.
Suliman was first introduced to the audience in Hani Abu Asaad’s Golden Globe-winning film “Paradise Now” from 2005. He went on to star in critically acclaimed productions such as “The Attack”, “The Time that Remains”, “Last Friday”, and “The Kingdom”, among others. We caught up with Suliman at Dubai International Film Festival to talk about his most heinous, yet compelling character.
You have a record of more than 40 films, but I think this the first time you play such an evil character. How was it?
I was excited at the prospect of playing such a dark character, a role that I have not played before on the big screen – I played some dark troubled characters in theatre. That’s why I was extremely excited about playing Dabaan. During my entire acting career, I tried my best to play different, diverse characters, and not to get trapped in one single role. My role in “Zinzana” is completely different from anything I have done before. The whole experience was fantastic.
You deliver a gripping performance as a violent policeman, were you surprised by yourself?
In every role I play, I try to bring or lend something from myself to the character, to bring it to life. With Dabaan, I think I brought believability, in a sense of not knowing what he is capable of doing next. I liked the multifaceted character of Dabaan. Interestingly, people usually sympathise with the victim (in this case Talal), but I had many people coming to come after screening and say they liked Dabaan and that they didn’t expect the ending. In a way, Dabaan is like the the Joker in “The Dark Knight”, he is a murderer, but many people are yet intrigued by him.
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One of the things I enjoyed about the film is that I had no idea where it was going.
I agree, I think the director Majid Al Ansari did an excellent job in keeping the viewers engaged. I’m really glad that I had this chance to work with such a talented director. On a creative level, I was fascinated by how the director succeeded in providing such an ‘uncomfortable’ experience for people watching it.
Majid Al Ansari on the set
How did you feel about playing opposite another well-known Palestinian actor? Was it challenging?
Saleh Bakri is indeed a very talented actor; we played opposite each other in theatre, but this is the first time we play in the same movie. Was it challenging? You bet.
Saleh Bakri and Ali Suliman
Tell us about your new film “The Worthy” with Emirati director Ali Mustafa and what you think about Emirati cinema.
It’s my second collaboration with Ali Mustafa after “From A to B”. I’m looking forward to working with him on “The Worthy” which is a kind of futuristic action/thriller. I’m very optimistic about the future of the Emirati cinema. Also, I think organisations like Dubai film festival and Image Nation Abu Dhabi are doing an excellent job in supporting the Arab cinema, and Arab filmmakers. Having said that, I encourage everybody to check and be part of the online campaign #SupportArabCinema.