Emma Benestan talks to us about her film “Hard Shell Soft Shell”: Dirty Dancing Algerian style

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Emma Benestan is the director of the film “Hard Shell, Soft Shell” (Fragile) which is part of the Screenwave International Film Festival which starts at Coffs Coast today and runs until 6 May.

Emma Benestan Hard Shell Soft Shell

We interviewed Emma Benestan about “Hard Shell, Soft Shell”. Read the interview below.


Your film Hard Shell, Soft Shell (or Fragile, the French title) will be screened at the Screenwave International Film Festival in Australia at the end of this month. How would you describe this film?

I often say, laughing, that I would say this film makes you want to be in love and to eat oysters. So, I would want to say that, quite simply.


Why did you decide to create this film?

As a French woman of Algerian immigrant background, I didn’t’ see enough positive and romantic representations of young people from this diversity, of which I am a part. I was sick of films with social themes which always treated the same problems, and I wanted to make a “Dirty Dancing Algerian Style”. To show girls who are free with themselves and boys who are who are fragile and caught up in their contradictions.

Hard Shell Soft Shell/ film Fragile


You said that Hard Shell, Soft Shellis a reverse love story. The heartbreak is felt by a man, and not a woman, to the contrary of the majority of romantic comedies”. Why did you decide to make a film about a reverse love story?

I wanted to make a reverse love story, where everything that usually happens to the female character happens to a male character because I find that the current feminism must also involve questioning male representations, which I don’t think happens often enough. It’s a real battle to be waged, and there need to be films where the men are also seen differently. Virgine Despentes, a writer, says that the injunction to virility is as strong as the assignment to a certain femininity. It is this injunction that I wanted to poke fun at with Hard Shell, Soft Shell.


Is Hard Shell, Soft Shell the first feature film you’ve written? Has COVID prevented projects?

It’s the second that I’ve written. But the first was really very different. It was a much darker film; it was about intimate issues. But I stopped writing it because it was painful. This was two years before COVID. And I wrote Fragile to go towards something lighter, sunnier and to have fun too. COVID didn’t stop Hard Shell Soft Shell because we shot between two lockdowns.


Are the characters inspired by people that you know? Are there any with similar character traits to you?

Yes, the character of the grandmother is an homage to my paternal grand-mother. Like the role of Az is really inspired by my father. He grew up in a family surrounded by women, he was the only man, and it’s someone who is very romantic and who cries easily. And I always found that beautiful and touching. Far from the usual clichés, the violent or macho North African fathers seen in most French films, which I find deplorable.


film Fragile / film Hard Shell Soft Shell

Why did you choose Sète as the location for the film?

I was born 30 minutes from Sète, I spent my adolescence there and when I went back there while location scouting, it was obvious. Oyster farmers rubbing shoulders with TV stars: only in Sète do you see that!


Hard Shell Soft Shell is your first feature film. Tell us a little about this experience in comparison to your experiences of short-film making.

Short films have allowed me to experiment with my way of working, trying to always be close to my actors, incorporating moments of improvisation and intense rehearsals. It also allowed me to meet my artistic collaborators.


Who chose the English title “Hard Shell, Soft Shell”? Why this title? Especially when the word “Fragile” exists and has the same meaning in English as it does in French?

It was the international seller who had the good idea to conduct a poll with several titles and this was the one that was chosen. I thought it really fit the film. There is the idea of delicacy, of the shell and of softness. I was very happy with it.


Tells us a little about the work that you do with the association 1000 visages? I think that Az’ friends were played by actors from this association?

I’ve conducted workshops with this association over many years with young people from working-class neighbourhoods. This experience was very strong for me because we had a lot of fun, we created lots of things on the stage, we tried things out in a relaxed way, especially with a taste for language, the body and gesture. I met many of the actors in Hard Shell Soft Shell there.

Hard Shell Soft Shell/ film Fragile


Which level of experience do the actors from 1000 visages have and what was your experience working with them on Hard Shell Soft Shell?

They all have different acting experiences, some had already done several professional shoots, others had not. But they all had a strong desire to make the film because we liked the idea of working together. It was a pleasure to work with each of them, and we really created a very close atmosphere during the shoot.


You had already worked with Oulaya Amamra (who plays Lila in the film) on your short-film Belle Gueule but how did you choose the other actors who are in Hard Shell, Soft Shell?

I knew almost all of them because they come from 1000 visages, I chose them because I wanted to film them, and after making short films with some of them as amateurs, it was important for me to continue towards a more professional film.


How long have you been interested in cinema and what made you decide to work in the field?

Every since I was little, through my father, who is a great film lover.


You’ve worked across many cinema domains… Do you have a preferred role? Did you find that working across so many different film-making domains has enriched your knowledge and allowed you to direct films differently?

Yes, of course. Especially my work as an editor. I learnt a lot from watching the dailies of the directors I worked with and that fed me a lot for my future work.


On the flipside, is it difficult to not get too involved in the other aspects when you’re directing a film and someone else is in the other film-making roles?

No, I don’t think so. It all depends on the person you’re working with. I trust the artistic collaborators with whom I work, even if of course, sometimes I am very demanding at these stages, for example with the editing. But Perrinee Bekaert, who I met on Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour has a rare delicateness and rare intelligence, and I love working with her.


Similarly, you’ve also acted yourself. Has your experience as an actor influenced your writing and directing? 

Non, because I only did it once and for a friend who thought that the role was made for me. But in the contrary, I always give.


Do you have any other films in the making?

Yes. I have a fantastic film project in Camargue that I hope to shoot next year and a series project underway.


Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Hard Shell, Soft Shell?

I hope that people will see it and will want to be fragile too, or at or at least assume it. Jean Claude Carrière said: Yes to fragility, because it brings us closer to each other, whereas strength drives us apart.


We thank Emma Benestan very much for this interview.


Hard Shell, Soft Shell will be shown at the Screenwave International Film Festival on 29 April at Jetty Memorial Theatre.



WHAT: Screenwave International Film Festival, at which there are 13 French films, including Hard Shell, Soft Shell

WHEN: 21 April – 6 May

WHERE: Jetty Memorial Theatre, Coffs Coast, NSW

HOW: Buy your tickets via the festival website


Single ticket prices are as follows:

  • Local 245 $17.50
  • Full $21
  • Under 25 $10
  • Concession $17.50


There are also multi-film passes:

  • 6 Film Pass: $99
  • 12 Film Pass: $179
  • 20 Film Pass: $259



Read our reviews of some of the French films showing at Screenwave International Film Festival:

Beautiful Minds: an uplifting, inspiring film at Sydney Film Festival

REVIEW: Paris 13th District – a black and white story of love, lust and mistaken identity in current day Paris


If you’re interested in watching more French films, take a look at the following articles about French films you can stream at home:

Alliance Française 2020 French Film Festival films to stream/rent online

Melbourne, you don’t have to miss out on the AFFFF 2020 films!

11 French movies from the 2019 Alliance Française French Film Festival to watch on SBS on Demand

13 films from the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2021 to stream

Feel like you’ve watched all of Netflix? Ritz cinemas has 134 French films available for stream rental



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