Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have been on quite the journey as filmmakers. After moving to Belgium from Morocco, they released a few small but acclaimed films (Image, Black, Gangsta) before being tapped by Hollywood as 'the next big thing.' The directorial duo were whisked away into the entrails of the studio system, directing Bad Boys for Life and Ms. Marvel, and were attached to the long-awaited sequel, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel Foley, before moving on. The Adil and Bilall version of Beverly Hills Cop isn't the only thing audiences have missed out on — they also directed an eagerly anticipated DC film, Batgirl, which was subsequently shelved by Warner Bros., never to be seen again. And yet, they've moved on, and are now releasing their most personal and powerful film yet, Rebel.
Shot outside the Hollywood system, Rebel finds the directors returning not just to Belgium, but also to an Arab country as well (in this case Syria, not Morocco). The film follows a single mother and her two sons in Belgium as they deal with a painful fracture in the family. The older son, Kamal, is arrested for drug dealing and later flees to Syria, where he feels he can be of service and redeem himself. Unfortunately, ISIS takes over Syria amidst the awful internal conflict that began in 2012, and Kamal tries to stay alive and retain his sense of morality while uncomfortably joining ISIS.
Rebel alternates between Kamal's journey and the issues of his mother and brother, ultimately creating a complete and devastating portrait of a broken family and the heartbreak caused by ISIS' manipulative tactics. It's a far cry from the blockbuster explosions of the Bad Boys franchise — the two will direct the fourht installment as well — and the slick comic book action of Batgirl, but it's probably better than both of them. Unfortunately, we can't say for sure, since Batgirl has not been seen by the public and probably won't anytime soon.
Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah elaborated on this in a portion of our exclusive interview ahead of Rebel's theatrical release.
How Rebel Differs from Hollywood Productions
MovieWeb: Has making Rebel felt like a breath of fresh air from the studio system, or do you not see a difference between directing this and making a film like Bad Boys for Life?
Adil El Arbi: No, I think for us, we are lucky that we are allowed to do Bad Boys 4 with Jerry. I mean, it was a tough decision to do Batgirl, we lost — basically we were doing Beverly Hills Cop 4, but then there was Batgirl, and we could not do both. So we lost Beverly Hills Cop 4 in order to do Batgirl, because every project that we do is very passionate, you know? And even though it's a big commercial movie, or it's a big studio movie, we always go all the way. Any project is passionate for us. Batgirl, we invested a lot of time, a lot of effort in, so you become emotionally invested in it no matter what the project is.
But obviously, one project in Europe will have way less compromise than the big, big budget thing in the United States. In Europe, we are basically allowed to go crazy and to take risks, whereas automatically in Hollywood, you've got to be a little bit more careful with that.
Adil El Arbi: But it's good to have the balance, I would say, because we learned a lot from our experience doing Bad Boys. You know, the 'Jerry Bruckheimer School of Action and Set Pieces' helped us out for Rebel, same thing with Ms.Marvel, you know, working in the big MCU Marvel machine. Those allow us to be more confident in directing those kinds of sequences in the movie.
What Audiences Missed When Batgirl Was Shelved
MovieWeb: You have such a positive energy to you, and of course some of that is from this excellent film, Rebel. I hope everyone sees this film. Unfortunately, nobody could see Batgirl. Is there anything you did with that film that you'd like to share with the world, since they won't be able to see your work?
Adil El Arbi: We never had our day in court, you would say, we never got to make our case, because we never finished the movie. I think a producer even told us that the first test screening was not even a real test screening, we heard that later, our producer told us, "No it was just like a private kind of screening." So we were really at the beginning of figuring it out, the editing of the movie.
Adil El Arbi: But Leslie Grace gave a great performance. She was a great Batgirl, a golden, great Batgirl. She fueled the character with a lot of humanity and vulnerability and also a lot of strength, and she was really like an aspiring character to look up to. And obviously Michael Keaton is a great Batman, as always, iconic. Brendan [Fraser] gave at that time already an Oscar-worthy performance. J.K. Simmons, fantastic guy.
Adil El Arbi: We grew up with the Burton movies and also with the Batman animated TV show. And we tried to have that vibe. That was what we tried to do, the animated TV show and the Burton movies and a little bit of the Christopher Nolan ones, because the movie was a bit more grounded. You know, it was not a fantasy, like it was Gotham City in the winter.
I mean, it's the biggest disappointment of our career that we didn't get to show it to an audience, because the fandom is our boss, you know? The audience is our boss, and they should be the people that actually judge the movie, and if it's good or bad, if you go to see it or not.
Bilall Fallah: I just still have a little hope that one day, Batgirl will see the light.
Adil El Arbi: But on a positive note, it was a big honor and privilege, just as fans of DC and Batman to be allowed to go there in that world and to get to know these people.
Why Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah Direct Movies
MovieWeb: Batgirl obviously sounds a lot different from Rebel, and even your first three films. You seem to be averse to narrow genres of film. What leads you to direct a movie? What interests you most?
Adil El Arbi: It's the humanity of the characters, I would say, and the kinetic aspect of it, the energy. You put the characters in trouble, and they need to fuc*ing fix it. You know? So that's the kind of thing that I would say, even though the story in Rebel might be very different, Rebel was the culmination of our directorial capacities, and our most personal movie. And in that vein, Batgirl was in another world and another thing, but it was still very close to the characters, very human, and kinetic. So that is what it would have been.
What would have been — was not. Rebel, however, is, and it's one of the best films of the year. It's currently playing in select theaters, and you can find more information at Yellow Veil Pictures.