First an impassioned plea!! Please watch this match up…. Not because I helped choose both films because I believe these are two amazing films from a region that has little or no exposure. Tunisia and Algeria might not have large well publisized film industries, but both countries have a cinematic tradition that stretches back to the sixties.
Since the two films were both chosen by myself and geographically and thematically they are pretty close I thought I would merge the two threads into one!!
First up Nouri Bouzid’s Man of Ashes. This film is a brave rare examination of masculinity in an Arabic country. Child abuse and sexuality is a taboo in most cultures, but in 1980s Tunisia? This delicate puzzle of a film follows two men who have bee directly effected by their troubled childhoods. One reacts violently and the other retreats within himself shy of the world and women around him. The very idea of what a man should be, and is expected to be is questioned here, (a duty to ones family, religion and what is culturally acceptable) I find this film a fascinating poetic tale of masculinity and opression. The seeds of revolution, dissatisfaction with the state are laid here and in many other North African films well before the Spring Revolution which brought down half the governments including Tunisia in North Africa. A reassessment of cinema in this area is clearly needed.
SHORT REVIEW FROM CHICAGO READER by Fred Camper
This powerful 1986 film challenges the traditional, family-centered values of Tunisia. Hachemi, a young man whose family is preoccupied with preparations for his impending marriage, grows increasingly troubled after some graffiti accuses his friend Farfat of being “less than a man” and Farfat’s father throws him out. As Hachemi becomes reluctant to marry, director Nouri Bouzid intersperses wedding preparations with tormented flashbacks in which Hachemi remembers that as boys both he and Farfat were raped by a local carpenter. The juxtaposition favors the urgency of private trauma over social obligation and exposes the hypocrisy of a small town that condemns homosexuality while harboring a pedophile.
For further reading Choosing Not To Be A Man Masculine Anxiety In Nouri Bouzid’s Man of Ashes by Robert Lang and Maher Ben Moussa. Scroll down to Page 81 for essay and please note that google books only lets you view first five pages. Still you get a great idea of the themes in Man of Ashes and the essay is not too complicated at least it made perfect sense to me
SOMETHING ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
Nouri Bouzid was born in 1945 in Sfax, the second largest city in Tunisia. He studied
cinema at the Institut National Superieur des Arts du Spectacle (INSAS) in Brussels
from 1968 to 1972, where he began working in film. Bouzid completed further training in Paris in 1972 while working on the film -Và directed by Andre Delvaux. He has worked with Steven Spielberg, A. Ben Ammar, Max Pecas, David Hemmings, Philippe Clair and Pascal F. Campanile, among others. Upon return to Tunesia, Bouzid joined the Tunisian television Channel RTT.
Bouzid was imprisoned from 1973 to 1979 for his membership in the political organization GEAST (Groupe d’Études et d’Action Socialiste Tunisien). Following his release, he worked again as assistant director on several Tunisian and international film projects. In 1986, his first feature film, Man of Ashes, the story of a young man who just before his wedding recalls the trauma of his childhood, was selected for the 1986 Cannes Film Festival––as were his next three films. Man of Ashes received the Golden Tanit at the Carthage Film Days 1986. His 2006 film Making Of was similarly recognized.
Throughout the 1990s, Bouzid collaborated with some of Tunisian cinema’s most influential fellow filmmakers, including Férid Boughedir for Halfaouine and Moufida Tlatli for The Silences of the Palace. In 1994, Nouri Bouzid founded a school of cinema in Tunisia, the EDAC, where he continues to teach today. He has also taught film at the Faculty of Philosophy in Manouba and at the Film Institute in Qamart, both in Tunisia. Bouzid has produced, directed or written over a dozen films and is also an accomplished poet. In 1998 Bouzid was awarded the Presidential Prize of the Cinema in Tunisia. In 1992, Bouzid was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres in France.
Ok secondly the more recent feature from Algeria Bled Number One or Back Home. This film follows the journeys of a Kamel a man who returns from France to Algeria to start a new life in his native country having been freed from prison. This film is a subtle observation of a man with a lost identity neither Algerian nor French struggling to accustom himself to a new way of thinking and believing.
Barely released from prison, Kamel is deported to his birthplace, a small village in Algeria stuck between mountains and the sea. This enforced exile obliges him to lucidly observe a country undergoing change, split between a desire for modernity and the weight of ancient traditions. Without roots, he is looking for a place in society, trying to find something to hang on to, so that he can finally express himself. After all these years of submission and suffering, his personality has been erased, as if polished by the passage of time. His loneliness reflects the soul of Louisa, a young singer who ran away from France, where her husband didn’t let her sing.
In this backwater- this “Bled”-, we recognize people by their gestures, by their faces on which their whole history is written. Movements, speeches, customs are part of a chorography that replaces the story. Everything you learn is written under the skin of these people, in their flesh and blood. Bled Number One is unlike traditional movie tales and not a documentary either. This movie is an agreement, an undercurrent, a murmur, and sometimes a monstrous thudding sound that strikes the spectator. As Jean-Michel Frodon, Cahiers du Cinema’s news editor wrote, “Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche has simply invented a never-seen-before way of directing”.
A long-time lover of cinema, Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche decided in 2001, armed with a small DV camcorder, to direct Wesh, Wesh, qu’est-ce qui se passe? with a few friends, a film on a sensitive subject: the difficult re-insertion into the working world of a former delinquent. The young director took as a frame for his story the Cité des Bosquets in Seine-Saint Denis, a place that he has known well since childhood. This first shot took the Léo Sheer prize urging its distribution at the International Festival of Film de Belfort in 2001. In 2005, he signed his second production, Bled number one, in which he plays a former prisoner expelled from his country of origin, Algeria, a country that he reveals through European eyes.
Both films are remarkable works and although the themes might be similar and the geographically proximity is close, the styles of the two films are extremely different. Bouzid’s film is a claustrophobic study set in the narrow back streets of Tunis. The film is strong on metaphor and suggestion with a heavy mixture of animal cruelty, homoerotocism, and impotence. Bled Number One on the the other hand is contemplative far more removed open long shots, a sense of isolation and a crumbling nation. Most people here know that I am passionate about African film both from north and south of the Sahara and these two films perfectly exemplify why I have this passion. A shame that one will be deemed a winner and one a loser, but also a delight that these two films are receiving some recognition on this site. Even if the whole world cup and voting thing doesn’t appeal but you are interested in these films or viewing a different “type” of film please message me and I can tell you where to watch these two amazing films.!!!
Lastly here are some questions and themes I thought about when watching these two films and will answer more succitly when voting comes around.
How do these directors portray male identity in their films?
Do these films prempt the dissatisfaction and despair of the people which led to revolution?
How do the directors use their camera, set design, editing, and sound design to express their characters inner turmoil?
Is the killing or torture of animals in both films necessary and what does this represent?
What solutions, if any do the directors give on the future of society in North Africa?