“It’s a film that brings together all my passions,” confides MB 14, who plays a young rapper with a talent for operatic singing. “Our reference is Billy Elliot,” adds director Claude Zidi Jr.
In 2016, among the viewers glued in front of the show “The Voice”, there was Claude Zidi Jr (son of Claude Zidi, director of popular comedies such as “L’aile ou la cuisse”, “Les Ripoux”, “Inspecteur la bavure”, Banzaï “…) and his producer Raphaël Beloniel. It was there that they spotted a young candidate, Mohamed Belkhir, alias MB 14, singer, rapper, and beat-box champion. He seemed to them the ideal artist to play the main role in a film still in project, “Tenor”. The story of a young rapper gifted for lyrical singing.
It took Claude Zidi Jr. several years to put together this project, and finally make this film (to be released on May 4). In the meantime, the finalist of “The Voice” has continued his musical path, and MB 14 makes his film debut with this first role, that of Antoine, a young suburbanite, rapper by night, sushi delivery boy by day. It is a delivery to the prestigious Paris Opera that will change his destiny; the singing teacher played by Michèle Laroque, for whom the sushi is destined, notices his voice and manages to convince him to come and take lessons at the Opera.
Growing up in the urban culture of the city, Antoine complicates his life by hiding from his family, including his boxer brother, that he is skipping his accounting classes for singing. Moving back and forth between two worlds, he no longer fits in anywhere, a bit of a ghost at the opera where he is made to understand that he is not welcome, and no longer really in the rhythm of rap battles. “I’m the one who sings”, MB 14 proudly said at the Rencontres du Cinéma de Gérardmer, where he and Claude Zidi Jr. presented the film in preview. So he is the one who sings, and who sings well: “Even if I have a lot of love for opera, I didn’t have the technique”, confides the artist who, like his character, took lessons with the singer Caroline Fèvre.
“I’ve been dreaming of making films for twelve years”
“It’s a film that brings together all my passions,” says MB 14, “I’ve been dreaming of making movies for twelve years, I started acting classes in first grade, I felt like I belonged, it’s crazy that it was music that brought me back to this. At the age of fourteen-fifteen, I started all my disciplines, I am very open musically, the voice is the oldest instrument in the world, I listened to a lot of classical music and opera. And even more with the preparation of the film: “I sang opera all the time, it became a passion, I listen to it every day. My name is Mohamed, you wouldn’t expect someone like me to love opera,” he says. For his very first film, he was faced with an experienced actress, Michèle Laroque: “I was impressed”, he admits, “She destabilized me but it was a good complicity, she gave me a lot of advice, she had a benevolent look”.
Benevolence is also the key word in this film, which brings together social backgrounds, prejudices, clichés, and characters who, at first glance, have nothing in common. “Our reference is Billy Elliot,” says the director. Indeed, “Tenor” is well acted, well made, conceived on the model of a character plunged into a milieu that is not his own, an artistic discipline that is not that of his milieu, and where he will nevertheless excel. A scenario that is now well known, already seen many times since the epic of the young English dancer; thus, we can see from afar the adventures and emotional upsurges that are defused. Even with a dose of melodrama (the teacher’s illness), we know that it will end well for the “Tenor” who should find his way, by dint of rigor and work. To note, the superb decor provided by the Garnier Opera, deserted for confinement, and the sympathetic appearance of the real tenor Roberto Alagna in his own role.