The first title
Ne restent dans l’oued que ses galets
In the riverbed only the pebbles remain
Director Jean-Pierre Lledo
43 years after the mass exodus to France of the Jews and Pieds-noirs following the independence of Algeria in 1962 what remains of this cohabitation in the memory of Algerians of Berber-Arab-Muslim origins?
This is a portrait of the Absent throughout a process which has led to tragedy.
This film draws on my personal and my country’s histories. It seems therefore necessary to explain certain things to the reader.
I was born in Algeria (Tlemcen) in 1947, to a Judeo-Berber mother (Tlemcen) and a father whose origins were Spanish (Oran). After my first ten years in Oran, I lived in Algiers (except during my studies).
The exactions of the OAS (extreme activists for a French Algeria) could not prevent the independence of Algeria in July 1962, or the precipitous departure of almost all the ‘European’ population (also called ‘Pieds-noirs’ a category in which one may or may not include the Jews), caught up in a not always unjustified panic.
Following my father’s support and activities for an independent Algeria, we remained in Algeria, the only ones from both the maternal and paternal branches of the family.
After independence the Front de Liberation Nationale set up a one-party state and went back on its support for secular and universalist principles of before 1962. They adopted a Constitution where ‘Islam is the religion of the state’ and a Nationality Code which stipulated that one could only be Algerian if one had a father and grand-father born in Algeria and who were Muslims. Non-Muslims were considered to be foreigners and had to ask for nationality: my father thus became Algerian in 1964 as did I later.
The education system and the mass media taught a history which denied our lived experiences. All the real history of before independence was suppressed and became a taboo. In particular, the history of inter-communal relations, the object of this film.
The theme of the identity, of the multiethnicity and multiculturality of Algeria became the essential theme of my work from the moment when, following death threats from fundamentalists, I had to seek exile in France in 1993 with all my family. (I returned a year later to film the civil resistance to fundamentalist terror in “Chroniques Algeriennes’.)
With the reduction in armed fundamentalism and nationalism, the development of a pluralism which is certainly still extremely controlled, makes it possible today to adventure onto territory which remains taboo. This is what I have already started to do with my last but one film ‘Un Reve algerien’.
No longer considering myself in exile, I live between Paris and Algiers.
‘Now the Algerians are the only ones who can understand us, because they have known the despair of not having a country. And they are the only ones who can reconcile us, with a part of our past’ through a shared future’
Jean Pelegri, Algerian pied-noir writer, born in Sidi Moussa in 1920. Remarks made after the presentation at the Cannes Festival of 1962 of the film ‘Les Oliviers de la Justice’ adapted from his eponymous novel.
3rd part of a trilogy
This new project continues a personal quest, which began after I arrived in France. It is linked to a return to algero-french colonial history.
Having to leave Algeria has made me face Algerias which had disappeared from my universe.
My exile has made me think of other exiles…
And it made me discover that the enormous traumatisms of the Jews and the pied-noirs had not reduced their attachment to their country of origin: they do not refer to themselves as repatriated (as does the administrative terminology) but expatriated.
Algeries, mes fantomes shows that. This film was shot before but finished after Un Reve algerien, it will be released in France and in Algeria at the end of this year.
My reconstitution of the puzzle of an Algeria in all its diversity up until independence with pieces assembled in France, demanded naturally a reply. To film, in Algeria, the phantoms of a memory which continues to haunt the Algerian collective unconscious, but which official memory largely continues to deny.
There the ‘Jews’ and the ‘Pieds-noirs’ spoke of the ‘Arabs’. Here it will be the reverse. Both films are about the Absent, the presence of whom one is separated from by the Mediterranean, and also about what is left unsaid, which we carry within us even despite ourselves.
The cycle which opened with Algeries, mes fantomes, continued with Un Reve algerien which exhumed the image of a fraternity which I witnessed as a child, will be completed…
Thus without being my original intention, Ne restent dans l’oued que ses galets… will close a trilogy.
As Algeria(s) my Phantoms was a film of exile, this one, like Un Reve algerien will be a film about a return.
In the latter film, with Henri Alleg we crossed Algeria to find his companions, the women and men who overcame communitarian prejudices, to collaborate on the basis of equality, to mix and to love one anther… Both within and outside his newspaper Alger Republicain, the only critical daily of the colonial period, the representatives of three communities were able to invent a new humanity.
The film finished with an unanswered question: ‘Algeria became independent, why could it not have been based on mutual understanding and solidarity’? Ne restent dans l’oued que ses galets will perhaps answer this question, at least in part.
We plan to meet a much wider public, as broad as the conditions of filming will allow, in the depths of the towns and countryside of Algeria.
A return then, as in Un Reve algerien …
But does one not return most frequently in order to verify?
What remains today of the profundity, the force and the truth of this rootedness of the Jewish and Pieds-noirs community in the memory and the hearts of Algerians of Berber-Arab-Muslim origin? That is the aim of my new investigation.
My personal conviction is that the exodus of the Jews and the Pieds-noirs in 1962 was not only experienced as a wrench by those who left, but also by those who remained… And that this amputation was reciprocal (according to Jean Daniel, the director of the Nouvel Observateur, himself of Jewish-Algerian origin, the second President of Algeria, Houari Boumedienne told him during the 1970s, ‘We lost two million inhabitants, one million martyrs and one million Europeans’).
Portrait of the Absent and of the Present
The Absent has disappeared, but in a hidden corner of the collective memory, he continues like a phantom to haunt the Other. How can this being who has never ceased inhabiting the collective unconscious, return to the surface or remain buried?
If the principal aim of the film is to return to the past to draw a portrait of the Jewish and pied-noir community, and to feel the tragedy which led to the exodus and separation of the communities, it is evident that we are focusing on contemporary Algerian society.
The construction of its identity which began in blood during the war of independence in order to secure the recognition of its Arab and Islamic, then later to admit to its Berberity identities.
And other voices say that Algeria needs to reappropriate its other dimensions: African, Mediterranean, European, Christian and Judaic. Others remind us that ‘Maghreb’ means Western in Arabic.
Through the characters who accept to share our adventure, who we would like to be very diverse, we will film a society which is questioning itself, a society which is searching all its roots.
The real suspense of this film lies in the unveiling of a society which has been neglected by sociology, anthropology or history, and even less shown and listened to, foreign to itself… Where documentary film is a quasi-inexistent genre.
We will go to simple Algerian citizens of Berber-Arab-Muslim origin, not with the idea that they alone hold the key to the truth of this period but in search of the portrait that they give of the European community, which they mixed with for good or bad, will certainly be more realistic and more generous than that which has been portrayed by hasty writers searching for scapegoats.
‘Because at the beginning of the revolt, it was necessary to kill: to kill a European was to hit two targets at one, to suppress at the same time an oppressor and an oppressed: leaving a dead man and a free man; the survivor, for the first time, feels his national soil under his feet’ (Jean-Paul Sartre Extract from the preface to ‘Damnés de la terre’ of Frantz Fanon 1960).
Since the testimony of the (Arab) victim remains still more convincing than that of he who must prove that he is not a torturer (pied-noir or Jew) it is his view that we are looking for.
‘When I first became aware or made a choice my decision was not influenced by the ideologists who proceeded by exclusions, however celebrated they were (I am thinking of Sartre) but simple people: an agricultural worker, an illiterate domestic worker, named Fatima. I had confidence in them because they spoke with justice and they did not exclude my people. I took it on trust.’ (Jean Pelegri, Maghreb dans l’imaginaire francais EdiSud 1985).
Faced with the visible history of conflicts, written, recovered, fetishised, what is there really of a less visible, subterranean, oral history, no less real of intercommunity connivance?
What remains of a cohabitation which lasted for more than a century?
How was this lived at a human, individual level in different milieu?
Was the European community just a graft which didn’t take, as the anticolonialist thinkers like Sartre argued?
Beside the well-known figures of French authority, authoritarianism, of spoliation and of repression – from the Conquest to the Algerian war – of inequality, racism, paternalism, what place is occupied in peoples memory by other ‘European’ figures who spawn peacefully if not fraternally with the ‘Muslims’ but who tend to be marginalised or excluded by propaganda?
All these figures suggest the plurality of the ‘European’ community and the diversity of its relations with the ‘Muslim’ community. They will also say, that the European and Jewish communities were in reality entities who were clearly distinct from France, which discovered the country only in 1962 at the time of the exodus!
Our film intends thus to go back over the colonial history of Algeria. Principally over the last two decades of this period. Faced with the stereotypes of the ideologies of both colonialism and of anti-colonialism, in order to aspire to a certain historical freshness it is necessary to do fieldwork, with as few prejudices and as much neutrality as possible.
Should we forget the undeniable heritage of industrial and republican Europe because of the well known traces of colonial brutality (both material and spiritual)? Should they prevent us from seeing and hearing the indigenous archaism which yesterday nourished an ethno-religious conception of citizenship excluding non-Muslims and today has given rise to fundamentalist obscurantism?
My attitude as a film-maker will be to watch and listen, without prejudices.
Our approach will be to do fieldwork and to solicit the memory of those men and women who lived alongside the Absent, in order to escape the caricatures of polemics and stereotypes of the politicians. Although this approach is taken by anthropology and even history, it remains the method of cinema.
The multiple questioning which we have outlined are almost always there, but like a watermark, in suspense, never direct.
Our film will bring certain responses, in its own way. Never directly, almost always through the experience of a life story or an exchange with a person who is filmed, in all cases always in the dynamic of a meeting, in space and time where everything is linked and plays and sometimes becomes undone, out of which one does not come unharmed…
At the same time as the spectator discovers characters, he is part of the construction of the film, of its meaning, never given, always becoming. We will not deprive the viewer of this pleasure. We will make him the privileged witness of stories and trajectories, individual and particular, perhaps exceptional ones.
If the Absent has disappeared for 43 years, how will s/he return? Or remain buried? What affects, what existence, what stories will they reveal? What history, unwritten until now, will they tell us?
But more than these stories, the essential aim of our cinematographic interest will be: How do these memories come to the surface and what surfaces?
Our first investigations have led us to discover that the evocation of the Absent often led to the emergence of a strong feeling of guilt.
Culpability of having left them go? Of having let them become the scapegoat – rather than the real cause: the colonial system? To have caused the other to suffer what their own ancestors experienced, a century ago, banishment and exile?
As a voyage through the un-spoken, the taboo, the film is first of all a continual displacement to escape the anguish of what cannot be said or formulated … The smallest reaction, the slightest emotion, whether positive or negative, the smallest gesture, will give substance to the Absent whose presence has hitherto been invisible, an outcast relegated to fleeting reflections.
And yet again, violence, like all forms of action, can be read as the impossible declaration of love, the impossible contact.
Returning to one of the greatest displacements of population in history, this film focuses on a human rather than a historical truth. We are investigating disappearance and loss rather than facts.
This is a vital enquiry which given the age of the witnesses has a certain urgency.
Road-movie in search of the Absent
Our road-movie is in five parts, each stage of which takes us to the original scene – the final uprooting of 1962 – and thus to the Body of the Absent.
Each stage is a place which is strongly symbolic of a certain type of coexistence and intercommunal connivance but also of the violence of History at the end of colonialism.
Each place is linked to a principal character who tells a story, communicating an experience and an idea of the complexity of intercommunal relations which they lived on a daily basis.
In introducing other people to us, they allow us to imagine how History and its ideologies could take them hostage, distort and make them explode.
This story is first and foremost that of a witness who, looks back over more than half a century.
Taking into account of the age of the secondary characters we are going to approach, our story will not go back further than the 1940s. This is sufficient because everyone agrees to situate the beginning of the confrontation which will lead to the war and to separation, to May 1945.
If the film begins with an amputation, it finishes by knitting together… While it may not heal or transplant, it will empathise and reconnect. As though characters, author and spectators help to remake together a more humane History by their feelings and thoughts.
Beginning with the archives – the only ones- showing the massive departure in 1962 of the Europeans, the film may finish with images, this time not from the archives, of Pieds-noirs or Jews returning 43 years later to their country. (The year 2005 is the year in which tens of thousands of Pieds-noirs and Jews have returned to the towns and villages where they were born).
The film will conduct this mourning in 5 parts, like 5 acts of a tragedy where fraternity and the law of blood ties confront one another.
4 towns and regions which are symbolic, 5 examples of coexistence and/ or of confrontation which takes us across 7 years, from 1954 to 1962.
– Skikda (ex-Philippeville) August 1955, the massacre of the innocents
– Algiers, terrorism in 1956
– Constantine, the murder of the jewish musician of Andalusian music, 1961
– Oran – violent separation, the 5 July 1962 massacre, in Oran, the very day of independence
We have decided to centre each part around a very conflictual event, which permits us to avoid all angelism, but also and especially to emphasise fraternities.
The drama is not linear but spiral. From one part to another, and also within each part, we will follow the same furrows each time more deeply.
From one part to another, and within each part, we begin with an absence, a gap, a disappearance. Then we return gradually to the lived, contradictory relations, which give form to the Absent, and to the Present. With their qualities, faults, prejudices, fears and violence, with their humanity. To arrive at the ‘scene primitive’ the upheaval of 1962.
From denial to articulation: this sums up the dramatic movement of the whole film. From the initial denial, we move forwards little by little from good conscience to bad, from ideas received to those drawn from personal experience, perhaps eventually reaching what might resemble a sort of confession.
Four main characters
They are all about the same age as the author, close to 60 years. In introducing us to their life, history, identity they are our mediators of a region, its inhabitants and their history.
But they are not only our guides. They are also our witnesses and the victims of this history. Very young at the time of the events, they all want to revisit their own past. Their own personal quests, their own questionings, on History and on human identity, are as vital as my own. They are my alter egos. Similar and different.
We have in common a wish to return to the history of our fathers. Without animosity but also without blinkers.
The task which always awaits the representatives of all the communities of the world who have made war, especially the ‘intellectuals’ is to return in a critical way to their own history, and to stop seeing the beam in the eye of the other.
This work conducted by the main character and the author will be a new demonstration that differences between individuals are less about their origins than their visions and ways of thinking, whether humanistic, universal, open, founded on human reason, or fragmented, limited, shut in on themselves, functioning on the irrational solidarity of blood ties.
The central character who is the pivot of each of the 4 parts, is far from any Manichaeism, but he is returning to a trauma with the desire to overcome it.
He also needs this film to seek responses to questions, which have been suspended for forty years, to take distance from them and question his own certainties.
The need to go beyond the ‘good conscience’, beyond his stereotypes and caricatures, to go towards the truth to defeat his prejudices, and those of the secondary characters to whom he leads us. His path is perpetual balance between reason and emotion.
His identity is uncovered through his meetings with other people, never as an interview. Always within a ritual… Being welcomed to a home, a meal shared; visit to a place or to another character, travelling by car or on foot. During these events particular memories return, different according to sex and to age. (The universe of women and of children, less political, less partitioned, less hierarchised and less rigid is less prone to exclusions than that of adult men).
This film, more than the previous ones, depends on objectivity.
To reveal – in the meaning of photography – the phantom of the Other, implies the invisibility of the author-narrator from the photograph. In effacing himself the narrator allows the spectator to identify better with the Absent, so that he wishes to go towards the characters as though his body will emerge from their mouths, scrap by scrap.
Although he is out of the field of vision, he remains however, present. By his voice, when it is absolutely necessary, notably at the beginning and during the journeys which take us from one region to another. Through the way main characters look at him. But if they address him, question him, he never replies. His place is that of the phantom of the Absent.
‘It is not the metropolitan French who hold the memory of our past life and of our family. It is certain Algerians, them alone. They alone remember our childhood games, family habits, the words of our fathers, vines pulled up, trees planted. Without them, part of our life evaporates and dissipates. There also, under the obvious, cruel history, there is another history, secret, underground, which one day will have to be documented’ Jean Pelegri, Maghreb dans l’Imaginaire francais EdiSud 1985.
A film for the cinema
Like my two earlier films, this full-length documentary is mainly conceived for the cinema. That is to say for spectators who come to the big screen in order to communicate with other anonymous spectators. The ‘communion’ aspect of my recent films, and even more of this project can only really be experienced in a cinema. I am therefore happy that the documentary film is becoming increasingly recognised.
The sound and visual environment, the atmospheres, looks are as significant in this film as what the characters say. The landscapes and the length of the shots are determinant here, the truth of the characters depends on this…
As with Un Reve algerien we will shoot in digital video (here in HD) which is more suitable for this type of documentary filmed over a long time, where nothing must disturb the return of memories where we will often have to manage with domestic or discrete lighting.
The way in which we shoot this film takes in to account how we will transfer the video images onto film at a later stage.
The shooting of the film will take place with a limited but complete team. Each part will take a minimum of two weeks, ten in all. And each will take place during a season, a particular visual atmosphere.
Light will have a great importance in this film. It will contribute to the dramatic progression from one part to another. Natural light, which develops with the season but also a particular ambiance. Artificial light, which gives us the freedom of contrasts… We will also film a great deal at night, following our characters in search of their phantoms… when the diurnal present gives way to nocturnal communion with the past. We will give ourselves time to wait and to film the resurfacing of what has long been repressed. It will never be in an abrupt way, frontal giving space in the plan of sequences to reach out to a certain human truth, giving the characters the freedom of space and time and patience.
The main character should be able to go to those close to him to discuss themes which are rarely discussed, to probe their hearts and minds and await responses which are not evasions.
The separation of 1962 was a trauma for those who left and for those who stayed. With the years, silence has turned into amnesia. We will respect the rhythm of the work of memory.
The essential aim of the film – to go back in time to reconstruct the body of the Absent – is underlined by the contrast between the deserted night which we reconstruct through the use of colonial architecture and a past epoch, and the busy day where the mass of pedestrians make it invisible. This spectacle of today’s populations who inhabit the urban landscape and the French architecture illustrates also the main theme of the film: mixedness. (The centres of the large towns and villages which are almost unchanged.)
Each part is drenched in a particular type of landscape and season.
Skikda and region, a green paradise of meadows which should have been that of all its inhabitants whatever their origins.
The Casbah of Algiers, brilliant in summer, with its atmosphere of a white labyrinthine fortress opening onto the utopia of the blue of the sky and the sea.
Constantine, autumnal, elegiac, still mourning its Andalusias and which still carries within her, in her rock, the wound, divided in two by the Rhummel, impetuous river, and autumn…
Oran, plunged in a fog which could just be the mist of a dissipating heat.
Apart from the archives of the exodus of 1962 and those which the characters wish to give us and which witness their relationship to the film, we are not attempting to compete with a ‘historical documentary’. Here, in an opposite direction to this kind of film, we will go to the heart and minds of people, rather than try to authenticate a story.
Music will be part of the way we bring the Body of the Absent back to the world. Initial confusion and chaos… progressive recollection… Hopes, anguish, disappointments or satisfactions, a musical creation which expresses an internal music, that of the spectator and his quest, as if generated from him.
Between the nostalgia and violence of History, this music is thematically and musically inscribed in Andalusia. Andalusias dreamt, Andalusias sublime, Andalusias spoilt, Andalusias butchered, Andalusias reborn.