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.
extent Le Vent des Aurès
(Lakhdar Hamina, 1966) – epitomises third cinema. But Algeriannationalcinema has for periods seemed frozen in the second phase,
neo-colonial, ‘trapped inside the fortress’ to use Solanas and
Gettino’s expression. Certainly this is true of much film-making
between La Bataille d’Alger and La Citadelle (Chouikh,
1988) – that is to say, between Boumediene’s coup against Ben
moustache’; he forgets his ancestors and the respect he owes them] (Bourdieu 1972 : 38). This theme
might be said to inform both Timgad and Hakkar’s full-length
fiction film, La Maison jaune . But La Maison jaune is also a
reaction to personal loss (the death of Hakkar’s father), to national
loss (the thousands who died in the black decade of the 1990s) and to the
loss of an Algeriannationalcinema during the 1990s too – what Stora has called
not given a
full release in France until 1971, and cinemas screening it over the
subsequent decade were often attacked by opponents of Algerian independence.
An Italian-Algerian co-production based on the memoirs of Yacef Saadi of the
FLN but directed by an Italian (Gillo Pontecorvo), the film has a slightly
ambiguous position in regard to Algeriannationalcinema, and hence some
critics consider Lakhdar Hamina’s Le Vent
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.
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'.
In Algeria the 1990s are known as 'the black decade', a period of widespread terror and trauma. The cultural historian Benjamin Stora has called the black decade a war without images, 'an invisible war' fought within a 'culture of silence'. A key concern of the films made after the end of the 'invisible war' is to make it visible. In L'Arche du désert, for example, a young boy flees an oasis where the villagers have been massacred to walk, right-to-left, into the desert. And in Rachida, a young female teacher is determined to teach again after an attack on her village. Finally, in Barakat!, evokes an eternal space, whose existence allows one to think beyond the temporal frame of the conflict. In 2004, the year of Bouteflika's first controversial re-election, Belkacem Hadjadj's film Al-Manara places a female protagonist at the centre of an account of the black decade.