Algerian-born Ludmila Bitar is a world citizen. She's lived in her native Algiers, as a child, then moved with her family to Paris, hopped over to Canada for a bit, returned to Europe and now calls Beirut home. Her heritage and family pedigree have formed within her a love, almost a craving for the arts and even though she is the founder and director of fragrance company Ideo Parfumeurs, she may as well be a filmmaker.
Every week, when I receive the Ideo newsletter, I see in front of me a new short film -- well, not literally of course. Even though Bitar sprinkles those precious emails with the latest creations from the brand, and ideas on how to wear the scents, it's the obvious cinematic influence that appeals to the recipient. With names like "Prison Blues" and "Malika's Temptation" Ideo pushes across an entire vision of scent as a lifestyle choice and therefore, makes those small bottles filled with delicious perfumes seems like little masterpieces of the seventh art. Once you wear the fragrance, you turn into a character of your choice.
I caught up with Bitar via Zoom. The last couple of years have been devastating for Lebanon and even Bitar is entertaining the idea of selling the brand, having already moved her operations to Europe. She said she almost anticipated the Lebanese crisis having already noticed some logistical issues that had been popping up in the years prior to 2020.
Yet her enthusiasm for the lifestyle concept that is Ideo remains, fueled by her love of world cinema. So here are some of her cinematic choices, as told by Bitar herself.
Ludmila, please share your favourite films and how did you choose them for this list?
It's very funny because I realized that I choose favourite movies by decades. Maybe it's the same feeling that we can have with fashion or with perfumes or even with music. It's about decades it's about mood and how I was then. My relationship with the movies, started with my parents. My parents have a very strong academic background in Algeria, and they were close to the art industry, the music industry, the cinema industry. So when I was young I think I had the chance of watching movies, maybe that were not meant for my age, but they believed that those will feed my personality. Maybe for them it was more of an educational and academical foray into cinema.
"If I can make someone happy, I will feel like I did my job. And this is the whole purpose of the brand, to try to give a smile to anyone, even if it's just for a couple of minutes." - Ludmila Bitar
What appeals to you in the films you've chosen? What do you look for in cinema?
They are movies that I can watch and watch and watch. And watch again. What I expect from a movie is to be honest. Let's face it, I lived in Algeria and I live in Lebanon -- I don't expect from a movie the answers to complicated social, political questions. I live it. I don't need a movie for this. What I want from a movie it's maybe an old fashioned vision of the dream. It's an escape -- a low cost version. For one or two hours, I'll be transported somewhere else with characters, enjoy them, feel a connection with them. And at the end of the movie, grabbing from the movie a reminder, a simple reminder: be kind. Love your children, stay close to your family or your friends. Don't forget to travel. That's what I want, to feel happier for having watched the film.
Do you remember the first film you ever watched?
There are not so many American movies that I remember, as impactful. Maybe the most impactful movie for me, you got to love this -- I was a child. And I remember precisely when I saw this movie and it was my father's idea. It was Spartacus with Kirk Douglas. I was in love with Kirk Douglas, I found this man amazing, and I think he was my first real movie crush. And the movie! Of course you have the introduction of my dad so you can watch this movie, "you're going to learn about Roman Empire," blah blah blah blah blah blah. You are seven or eight so you just want to watch the movie. And I was amazed by Hollywood, by its quality, how dreamy it was. How fantastic the cinema was, it really was an entertaining approach to the cinema and Spartacus maybe sowed the seeds of what I expect from a movie.
Any Algerian films, since you were brought up, your first few years in Algiers?
From this same decade, there is an Algerian movie. He was like our Mr Bean. It's Inspector Tahar's Holiday by Moussa Haddad. He was a detective and it was super funny, and the whole Arab world heard about him and his assistant L'apprenti. They were stories in the 70s about this cop who was trying, trying to solve them. Police, murders, whatever it was in Algeria, and he was really a symbol of the Arab world in the 60s in the 70s, and I'm really nostalgic about this spirit -- it was purely cultural without a religious twist. Even though most of these countries were dictatorial countries, there was something poetic and soft about their cinema.
Since you've admitted you remember films by decades, let's talk about the 80s?
The 80s was about my only real strong connections with American movies, and my link with American movies is more related to movie directors, than to a specific movie. But one movie that stands out is Full Metal Jacket by Stanley Kubrick. Wow, this movie is amazing, emotionally it is really amazing because he tries to talk about history, facts, his opinion, in a very smart way -- not an arrogant way that you can see in some movies. I also discovered the movies of John Cassavetes in the 80s. They were more introspective, more intellectual maybe because I was starting my teenage years, and I was a heavy reader. So John Cassavetes movies were very strong for me.
And what about the 90s?
In 1998 I watched La Vita É Bella by Roberto Benigni. That was the turning point, I really really cried, maybe for the first time. Italian people like Mediterranean people have the tendency of being overly emotional, but Benigni used his sense of humour, to talk about something that is very sad. During one of the worst part of history, in an amazing way. I believe that if you want to touch the Shoah and what happened during the Second World War, in any school anywhere in the world, the kids should watch La Vita É Bella. Maybe this is the most emblematic film in my life. Other movies talk about the history, but in a very dark way -- instead he used his sense of humour, and he used it in a very unique way.
After that, in 1998 I was living in Canada. And there was this "Dogme 95" movement. One of the first Dogme movies was Festen, a Scandinavian movie. I like how the director used this tool, which is cinema, to try to share a sociological approach of what happens in families, and maybe it was not his message you know -- we all interpret art in our ways -- what we see, what you see on the screen. I don't try to over intellectualize it but what I like it from the movie is its message which is very simple. We all have issues with our families but let's try to have a happy life, as best we can.
And from the last couple of decades?
The last movie that I really loved, and I cried after watching this movie, is Call Me By Your Name by Luca Guadagnino. This guy's aesthetic is unique. Maybe because I try to do the same with the perfumes, he's worked on each detail -- the setup, the location, the clothes, the dialogue, the emotions, the cast, everything was amazing. And the message behind the movie was also... Wow, so you have to try to be who you are, first. The questioning of "maybe I took the wrong road in my life?" At the end of the movie you have these two men, one isn't in acceptance of what he is and the second one is. Which one is going to be a satisfied old man? And most of us ask the same questions. The movie is deep yet at the same time very poetic. And for me it was a low cost escape to Italy which I love a lot.