Loubia Hamra: farewell to French Algeria

Narimane Mari's narrative feature debut screened at Beirut's Cultural Resistance Film Festival

Industry, Events and Festivals, Algeria

Loubia Hamra: farewell to French Algeria

Narimane Mari began writing the script for Loubia Hamra as Algeria was preparing for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the War of Independence. 

"At that moment, so many stories resurfaced, chaotically, painfully, ceremoniously," she says. "I told myself that, in these circumstances, the only thing to say that might ring true is that Algeria is a free country."

To embody this freedom, Mari chose to film a game played by the children in the area where she was shooting. "I did not select them, I just asked the local children who wanted to play." Forty volunteered and around 20 committed to the film, forming an unusual group of non-professional actors.

It was then that the rehearsals began. Mari asked the children about history, to try to get them thinking about memory, their sense and understanding of the game. She had planned out a method: to work through the film with them, scene by scene, without giving them an overview of how it would pan out.

"During rehearsals and during the shoot itself, I would remind them of the purpose of each scene and of the ways that they could respond to it. It was not a question of following strict instructions, but of directions actually inspired by their own responses."

The children were left to play as they wanted, and it was necessary to enter their world. The film crew was reduced to a minimum, with only cameraman Nasser Madjkane present alongside Mari for the shoot.

"It was quite a tough environment for him. It's not easy to spend all day with 18 kids who have been given free rein. It was essential for him to slot in within their game, because it couldn't be interrupted. Over the course of the shoot, the children became very good actors -- impossible to manipulate and difficult to imitate."

For Mari, childhood became one of the guiding principles of the mise-en-scène. The film is infused with a freedom to play and to write, removed from traditional cinematic codes. As viewers, we are immersed in a world made by children, as they fight it out in the style of War of the Buttons. Daring missions are punctuated by discussions about beans and farting… They find themselves in the middle of the War of Independence and find ways to incorporate it.


"So you fart like a Frenchie now?" asks one of them. But as the film goes on in its semi-controlled silliness, the viewer sometimes loses the thread: it is characterised by a slow rhythm, where visuals are given priority over a fragmented narrative, with a few words now and again, isolated moments of action, and long musical interludes.

The film's aesthetic is more important than its plot, despite being shot with very few resources. "It is impossible to carry a heavy film camera onto a crowded beach or in the streets of Algiers," Mari says. She and Madjkane used only one camera and pocket lamps for the lighting.

The work bears more resemblance to the visual and experimental arts than to the classic language of cinema.

"The film's narrative structure -- which is very free -- sometimes hinders viewers from really appreciating the form, regardless of their cultural background," admits the director.

But it is more accessible to audiences in some countries than others: "In France, where cinematic expression is extremely regimented -- whether with regard to the script, the subject matter or the form -- my film is even less easy to grasp. Countries further north are more open, as are North and South America."

After being screened in 40 countries, the film continues to tour the festival circuit in the hope of finding more admirers.

Maris is already making preparations for her second narrative film, "an enchanted opera that takes place in the desert in 1860."


Anaïs Renevier

Translation: Simon Pickstone


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