“We must talk, talk about everything. A society that respects itself raises all topics without taboo. In order to advance.”
In Cannes, Algerian director Merzak Allouache screened Le Repenti (lit. “The Repentant”), a film that questions “the amnesia and the silence” that prevail in his country. High on suspense, this tough, dense feature follows the journey of Rachid, a young jihadist who leaves the mountains and scrubland to return to his village.
In 1999, when Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s law on civil concord encouraged thousands of Islamists to surrender to the state, Rachid goes to the police station to hand over his weapon in order to become a “repentant”. But in the villages, hatred is running high and his evident vulnerability exposes him to all sorts of difficulties.
Allouache, who lives in France, questions the way in which his country turned the page on a “dark decade” that, from 1992, caused tens of thousands of deaths
“I wanted to question the amnesia which prevails in Algeria,” the 67-year-old director told the AFP. “There are a lot of people who live through this pain, and live through it in silence. People try to show that the country has calmed down, but the ongoing violence shows that nothing has calmed down in Algeria.”
“My film is not against the law on civil concord,” he takes care to note, “but against the fact of almost arbitrarily turning the page [by] silencing years of violence.”
“There is a part of Algerian society that feels at ease in this ‘appeasement’ and continues business as usual: We are doing business, leave us alone, don’t talk to us about the Arab revolutions!” adds the director of the only African film at the Director’s Fortnight. “Yet these people are being pushed by a new generation that has arrived and is demanding answers.”
Allouache's film was “shot in 20 days, in anger,” after “odious attacks” from a part of the Algerian press. He was denied funding from the Algerian ministry of culture who accused him of having “shown a crooked cop” in one of his earlier films.
“I did not receive any help, but I was not forbidden to film.”
Just as in his previous films, Merzak Allouache explores the grey areas of corruption and manipulation. Rachid is blackmailed by the police officer charged with giving him his status of “repentant”, although the audience never clearly understands what the nature of this blackmail is.
“Your life is between my hands,” he reminds him menacingly.
“Algeria is a very rich country where everyone is scrambling to grab their share. There is a lot of hypocrisy and silence. Any foreigner arriving in Algeria, after two hours, realises that something is not quite right.”
Will this film, which has just been bought by a French distributor, be released in Algerian cinemas?
“I hope so, but honestly I'm not very bothered about a film's distribution anymore,” responds the director. “The village where I filmed, on the high plateaus, has no cinema, no library, one wonders how culture and creation exist there. Then you come across people who tell excitedly that they saw your latest film, because they have satellite television, internet, or pirated DVDs.”
The question of self-censorship remains. “Self-censorship is a kind of widespread fear of what we can and cannot show [in a film]. It’s not only to do with political issues. Can we show this person from the start of the film drinking two glasses of wine? Can we show this girl taking a shower?”