In terms of the so-called 'clash of civilisations' after '9/11', Islamic states such as Algeria have too often been perceived in the West as 'other' and hence as threatening. This book, via an analysis of cinema, provides a discussion on some misunderstandings and assumptions about Algeria, which remains to a large extent underrepresented or misrepresented in the UK media. It is about Algerian national cinema and illuminates the ways in which the official mythologising of a national culture at the 'centre' of the postcolonial state has marginalised the diverse identities within the nation. Tahia ya didou occupies a pivotal position between fiction and documentary, capturing the hectic modernization of the Boumediene era while reflecting back on the aftermath of historical trauma. La Citadelle presents gender differences as culturally engrained and patriarchal power as secure. Youcef, Bab El-Oued City and Rome plutôt que vous present differing visions of how a Freudian melancholia in the shadow of a crushed revolt might relate to Algerian experience after Black October. Lettre à ma soeur listens to the voices of the subaltern; the film is a sense of re-emergence that follows the initial insurgency of Nabila's activism, the trauma of her killing and the subsequent years of silence and self-imposed incarceration.
Claude Chabrol's films break down the dubious critical barrier between art
cinema and popular cinema. Rejecting the avant-garde and the experimental,
Chabrol chooses to work within the confines of established genres. He has in
fact filmed farce, melodrama, fantasy, war films, spy films and glossy literary
adaptations. Chabrol has excellent new-wave credentials and is in some ways a
representative figure for this innovative film movement in French cinema. For
the small budget of 32 million old francs, he was able to shoot Le Beau
Serge over nine weeks in the winter of 1957/8 and film it in what was
essentially his home village. Chabrol has known periods of great success (the
launching of the new wave in 1958, the superb Hélène cycle of the late 1960s,
including his most famous film Le Boucher for his return to form in the
1990s). He also has had periods of inactivity and failure. His depiction of the
middle classes usually concentrates on the family. Le Cri du hibou begins
as Masques ends, with a framed image from which the camera slowly tracks
back to reveal the presence of a spectator. Given that in Chabrol's cinema
women are often lacking in financial or social power, there are limits to the
ways in which they can either define themselves or escape their situation. This
is spelled out most clearly in Les Bonnes Femmes, where the potential
escape routes are sex, marriage into the bourgeoisie, a career, romance or
This book provides an introduction to French film studies. It concentrates on films which have had either a theatrical or video release in Britain, or which are available on video or DVD from France. Most avant-garde film-makers, including Germaine Dulac, were unable to continue in the 1930s, faced with the technical demands and high production costs of the sound film. Exacerbated by the Depression, and above all by the financial collapse of both Gaumont and Pathé, film production fell from 158 features the previous year to only 126 in 1934, and 115 in 1935. While poetic realism was at its height, a talismanic figure in post-war film was faced with a generally lukewarm reception from critics and audiences. Thanks largely to German finance and also to an influx of filmmakers replacing those who had departed, after 1940 French film. If 1968 marked a watershed in French cinema's engagement with politics and history 1974 did the same for representations of sexuality. In that year, pornography entered mainstream French cinema. Although film-making remains male-dominated in France as elsewhere, 'more women have taken an active part in French cinema than in any other national film industry'. A quarter of all French films made in 1981 were polars, and many of those were box-office successes. French fantasy has had a particular national outlet: the bande dessinée. The heritage film often takes its subject or source from the 'culturally respectable classicisms of literature, painting, music'.
Gender is one of the most vexed questions in modern Algeria and has been approached in diverse films of different genres and periods. The context for the three films chosen in this chapter is to a large extent derived from not just Islamic traditions and taboos but also state policies in both colonial and postcolonial Algeria. Be they Arab or Berber, Algerian films engage with a series of taboos and traditions that centre on how women are looked at. Spatial segregation can be seen as an extension of the veil, and the spatial and social separation of the sexes is a perennial feature of Algerian cinema. Gender segregation is a given in the urban Algiers of Allouache's Omar Gatlato and Bab El-Oued City as well as in the rural villages of La Citadelle or Rachida and the historical settings of La Montagne de Baya or La Colline oubliée.
Currently, Algerian cinema is starting to reconfigure itself after two decades of attrition and collapse. The nationalised film industry of the Boumediene era is long gone, but there are signs that a national film industry might be under (re)construction. In a review of the film, the newspaper El Watan described Teguia, Mokneche and others as a new generation of Algerian filmmakers and declared that the official state-controlled cinema was dead. If the audiences for Algerian films include diasporic communities, notably in France, a significant number of directors working within Algerian cinema are also based there. Despite the nationalist ideology aimed at erasing difference in the independent post-colonial Algeria, the nation remains a site of multiple audiences, including those resistant to official histories. Algerian cinema is then a plural cinema that at its best fulfils the call by Homi Bhabha for 'national, anti-nationalist histories of the "people" '.
The Algerian film industry was nationalised as early as August 1964, and soon became aligned with the FLN's mythologising cultural policy. Two films in particular show an engagement with the trauma of the war while at the same time refusing to demonise the French or to oversimplify the representation of Algerian identity. It is in fact characteristic of La Bataille d'Alger to create an iconography of trauma from allusions to sacred martyrdom (with Christian overtones, presumably due to Pontecorvo's and Solinas's cultural background) combined with echoes of Italian neorealism and of contemporary still images from the Algerian war. Following on from the critical success of pioneering films about the war such as La Bataille d'Alger and Le Vent des Aures, the cinema moudjahid of the late 1960s rapidly mythologised and ossified the representation of the liberation struggle.
In the Mzab region of the Algerian Sahara, 'women are never permitted to leave the oasis, although their husbands spend much of their time away from it'. Meanwhile the erosion of the state monopoly on the film industry allowed Berber cinema to finally develop. As Hadjadj's comments reveal, the production context for Berber cinema in the 1990s was hazardous, but contributed to a sense of mission that drove the film-makers. La Montagne de Baya historicises Berber struggle by placing it in the context of French colonial oppression and more specifically as a reaction to the confiscation of land from rebel tribes. If the cinema moudjahid of the 1960s and early 1970s falls short of this ideal, then the Berber cinema that finally appeared in Algeria in the 1990s seems to achieve it. It is folklore and popular memory which feed Berber cinema, speaking to its audience about themselves.
The events of October 1988 form a watershed in recent Algerian history. Known as Black October, this was the moment when popular trust in the state, eroded for years, finally collapsed. Alienated by state corruption and secrecy, frustrated with massive unemployment and failing economic policies, thousands of young demonstrators took to the streets to protest. Black October was in effect 'the bleeding white of the future', a moment of rupture that fed resentment against the state and facilitated the rise of the Front islamique du salut (FIS), culminating in the suspended elections of December 1991 that triggered civil conflict. Youcef, Bab El-Oued City and Rome plutôt que vous present differing visions of how a Freudian melancholia in the shadow of a crushed revolt might relate to Algerian experience after Black October. All three films of the Algerian cinema also signal the possibilities of postcolonial melancholia.
Algeria combines an ancient Berber culture with the historical influence of diverse invasions and colonial occupations. An attempt to wrest Algerian identity away from colonial constructions, as well as a mythologising of lost national unity, is central to much Algerian cinema. Modern Algeria is however officially an Islamic state and its national language is Arabic: both legacies of the Arab invasion that began in 647. The Algerian war or Algerian revolution began with an insurrection in the Aurès mountains in the east of the country on 1 November 1954. Forced by the French into internment camps, or fleeing to slums on the edge of the northern cities, Algerians were systematically cut off from their family networks and their larger clan or tribal connections. Under Boumediene, the influence of the military on the Algerian state only increased: 'A partner in 1962, the army was now the arbiter of Algerian politics'.