Saturday, April 26, 2008

TFF Day Two: Algeria, Unspoken Stories - another "Gone with the Wind?"

Perhaps it's extreme to compare Jean-Pierre Lledo's, Algeria: Unspoken Stories to that mythic version of the Civil War and the Reconstruction, but by the time the film was over, it really did feel like the French-Algerian (Pied Noir) version of "Moonlight and Magnolias."
The film followed four different Algerians from different mixed-ethnicity neighborhoods as they recalled their experiences during the war of independence and immediately after. The focus of the film was on the massacres of Europeans in the immediate aftermath of independence and the killing of the non-Muslim Arabs, called "Gours." The first half of the 2 hour + 45 minute film was interesting. Lledo's first subject was a farmer named Aziz, a "gour" whose family was killed by Algerian resistance fighters (?) in 1955. His second was a woman named Katilba, a Muslim Arab from a mostly Jewish and Christian neighborhood called Bab El-Oued, who had left there for the Casbah during the war of independence, but since the 1990s cannot return to either place. Hers was the best segment of the film, and featured a defense of revolutionary violence by her and a woman resistance fighter. The second half of the film degenerated significantly from there. The failure to edit the film effectively really began to take its toll in the third segment followed a man in Constantine who refused to be identified and therefore was covered by a black square throughout. His section concerned a Jewish Andalusian singer named "Cheikh Raymond" (look here too) who had been assassinated in 1961. Because of the blacked-out main "character" this part of the film was utterly confusing and not at all engaging. In the final segment Lledo turned the interviewing over to a young playwright enchanted with Albert Camus, who interviewed residents of the formerly Spanish neighborhood in Oran where a massacre of Europeans followed independence on July 5, 1962. The film reached its nadir when Tchitchi, an Arab who was a popular fixture in Spanish dance-halls referred to the time prior to independence as when the people were "happy" and got along. While the film-maker wrung his hands over the deaths and exile of Europeans following independence, the numbers of Algerian dead during the war - anywhere from 350,000 to 1 million- were not mentioned at all. The violence perpetrated by the French is only mentioned in fragmentary comments. There was no exposition in the film, making it problematic for anyone but an Algerian audience. Speakers referred to "gours," Pieds-Noirs," and the OAS, and none of these were explained in any detail. The Islamic terror of the 1990s was mentioned over and over again, but was not explained either. As one outraged Algerian audience member reminded the rest of us during the Q&A, how was it that everyone got along in these neighborhoods when Muslim Arabs were segregated in contrast to Jews and Christians who had full citizenship? As another (Algerian?) man pointed out, the whole thing could be misleading for anyone who didn't know the history of French colonialism in Algeria. One of my favorite things about seeing films at this festival is that at every screening of a foreign film that I've gone to has an audience of people from the country in question who have interesting comments and questions afterward.
As my companion at the the film argued later, the most interesting part of the film- the interview with the female Algerian resistance fighter - was largely wasted. Instead of arguing with her about whether violence against civilians is ever justified, I wished that Lledo had asked her about gender politics in Algeria after the revolution. Neither she nor Katilba wore the hijab and both seem quite Westernized. I was interested to see that Lledo had made a previous film with Henri Alleg, and despite my problems with this film, I thought of trying to see his more Algerian, Algerian Dream, but then I read the review linked above which describes it as an "interminable home movie," I've decided I can give it a miss. After seeing Peter Scarlet kvell over two post-revolutionary films (the Forgacs film in the '05 festival that practically took the Fascist side in the Spanish Civil War) and one impossibly bad Brazilian feature at the fest in '06, I think I'll be wary of his recommendations in the future.

1 comment:

akon said...

it was a piece of revisionist crap. im glad the algerians in the audience questioned the film makers bias. especially given the french's mission civilatrice system of colonialism, of course french and algerian point of view toward colonialism would be very tangential. to portray the points of view of a minority who benefited from colonialism is a slap in the face of those who fought for independence. and i was pretty ticked off that he mentioned the ANC freedom movement. and said that, muslim culture forbids women to marry foreign men, but not vice versa, and so algerian men took full advantage of this. how is this not ignorant?