Festivals Algeria, Unspoken Stories

Toronto. Amiens. Fribourg. Montréal. Tribeca–New York. Tétouan. Beyrouth. Tarifa. Jérusalem. Cambridge. Vancouver. Frankfurt. Stockholm…

  • Toronto Film Festival, September 2007

Film Description and Director Biography

The stories are unspoken because to speak them is to risk censorship, banning or worse. In Algeria, recent history remains explosive. Simply to recall what happened during the country’s violent independence struggle can be an act of courage and even resistance. That power of memory is exactly what drives documentary filmmaker Jean-Pierre Lledo, himself a French-Algerian transplanted back to Europe.

In a probing, comprehensive sweep through his former homeland, Lledo asks a simple question: Did it have to be this way? Did the one million who fled Algeria after independence in 1962 have to leave? What might have happened had Arab, Berber and European, Muslim, Christian and Jew continued to live together as they had for decades?

He finds four Muslim Algerians – Aziz, Katiba, Hamid and Kheïreddine – willing to revisit that contested history. Aziz is a farmer whose uncle fought with the National Liberation Front against the French. He returns to the bucolic villages where French and African Algerians lived in relative peace, until Berbers descended from the Atlas Mountains in 1955 and massacred dozens of French. Katiba recalls how news of the famous Battle of Algiers – when the French-led army cracked down on Algerian rebels – reached her while she was playing with her French babysitter. Everything changed from that day forward.

Algérie, histoires à ne pas dire is engrossing oral history, guided by people with a direct connection to those times when Algeria convulsed with violence – in the fifties leading up to its independence, but also during a reign of Islamist terror in the nineties. As Lledo travels the country, he collects memories that echo one another. Themes recur: harmony among faiths and cultures followed by sudden eruptions of horrific aggression; neighbours turning on one another in enmity. Kheïreddine, a young man who embraced the theatre after the hostilities of the nineties, invokes Albert Camus to make sense of it all. Camus was an absurdist who wrote with uncanny insight about violence; he was born and raised in Algeria.

Cameron Bailey

  • Tribeca Film Festival (New York) – April 2008

“Every country has its dark histories. Algeria as well”, thus begins Jean-Pierre Lledo’s Algeria Unspoken Stories, the third chapter of his documentary “trilogy on exile”, that interrogates boldly and critically the story of Algeria’s independence, memory and identity. In a state ruled by a single party and a single ideology, history is cast in a single narrative, Lledo’s trilogy undermines the foundations of this official version, as well as the outcome of a nationalism built on ethnicity and religion that borrows dangerously the flat binaries of colonial discourse of Arab versus European, Muslim versus non-Muslim.

It is vanguard, compelling and fearless, its trajectory ingenious, particularly when considering the volumes of reels produced by the government in the 1960s and 1970s on the war of independence that celebrated almost as scripture the official version.

Beginning with An Algerian Dream (Un Rêve Algérien, 2003), he resurrects the dream [aspiration] shared by a number of anti-colonial militants hailing from a multitude of ethnic and religious affiliations to build an independent, free, diverse and multicultural Algeria. Algeria My Phantoms (2004) visits communities of Algerian exiles in France, the generation that left the country following its independence in the 1960s, including the pieds-noirs (descendants of French, Spanish and Italian colonial settlers in Algeria), Jewish groups, and harkis (native Algerian defenders of French rule) and the generation that left the country in the 1990s at the outbreak of the “decade of terror”. Stories of absences and taboos, the pain of exile and uprooting that make for tragic ruptures in today’s Algeria. Algeria Unspoken Stories, concluding the trilogy, resurrects from barely repressed memory these same stories, only this time spoken by nationals in the country.

Four characters, four chapters, four cities, the years of embers, from the outbreak of the war in 1954 to the declaration of independence in 1962.

Structured like a road-movie, the film begins in Skikda, it revisits the unresolved mystery of the murder of Lyazid, a commander in the army of liberation who refused to execute summarily pieds-noirs families who gave refuge to Algerian farmers during the campaign of violent repression by the colonial army. Next stop are Bab el-Oued and the Casbah in Algiers, neighborhoods foundational in national mythology, whose not too distant pasts have been erased beyond trace as they have become hostile fiefdoms for Islamists. Next is Constantine, once a thriving melting pot for religious mixity between Jews and Muslims and a thriving center for Andalusian Arab and Jewish musical legacy, where the film retraces the disappearance of Raymond, a star and master of Andalusian music, assassinated in cold blood, at noon, on a busy street with a bullet fired from a silencer. The film ends in Oran, once a thriving melting pot for ethnic mixity, where working poor Spanish communities lived peacefully amongst their Arab brethren, and resurrects the unspoken memory of an “unwarranted” revenge massacre of pieds-noirs that took place on the day of celebration of national independence on the 5th of July 1962.

Critical revisions of Algerian nationalism were spurred after the blood-drenched repression of Islamists escalated to a nearly decade-long civil war (1992-2000), officially referred to as the “decade of terror” and still remain shrouded in taboo. Algeria Unspoken Stories does not explicitly confront that chilling chapter in the country’s recent history, rather it burrows deeper, asking difficult questions humanely, almost tenderly in the spirit of a brotherhood of shared destiny, shared tragedy. Rather than assuage revenge, it seeks to assuage a longing, like the embrace of a long lost kin or the return to what once was home.
Rasha Salti

  • Jerusalem Film Festival, Juillet 2008

In July, 1962, after 132 years of French colonial occupation and seven years of  bloody struggle for independence, Algeria gained its freedom. With it, more than a million European settlers were forced to leave the country and go “back” to France, though many had never set foot on French soil. Was this an act of panic, or was it the logical outcome of historical processes and the extreme violence on both sides? Had the Europeans not left, could they and their Algerian co-citizens have lived side by side?
Algerian filmmaker Jean-Pierre Lledo takes on the role of collector of personal memories, and through four magnificently-built episodes, guides us on a journey through the suppressed recent history of his country. Aziz lost no less than 23 relatives in the war, and now he is trying to find out whether his uncle, one of the leaders of the revolt, took part in protecting the lives of European settlers. Katiba, an independent and strong woman, takes us back to the landscapes of her childhood in the Casba of Algiers and in the European neighborhood of Bab El-Oued. Raymond, one of Algeria’s great singers, a Jew, was killed in June 1961, but his name and picture are blatantly missing from the municipality’s wall of fame. Kheïreddine, a successful theater director, born long after independence, is trying to make sense of it all by putting on an absurdist play by Algerian-born Albert Camus.

  • Cambridge Film Festival, 18-28 September 2008

Algeria, Unspoken Stories


Director: Jean-Pierre Lledo.

France, 2007. 155 mins. French with English subtitles.

In 1962 Algeria gained its independence, after 132 years of French colonisation ended in a

bitterly violent war. Thus began one of the largest migrations in human history, as a million

great-grandchildren of 19th century immigrants from Jewish and European minority

communities were forced to leave Algeria, their birthplace. In this groundbreaking film, the

stories of four Algerians of Muslim origin take us back to the war years. Searching for the

truth of their personal histories reveals the entanglement of hatred and fraternity in the hidden

memories of their relationships with Jewish and Christian neighbours. This extraordinary,

unflinching documentary strikes at the heart of the founding myths of the new Algeria,

through the memories and experiences of individuals. Such stories are unspoken because to

speak them is to risk censorship or worse: more than a powerful piece of cinema, the film is

an act of resistance.

* We are delighted to welcome director Jean-Pierre Lledo for a Q&A following the screening.

ï  Algeria, Unspoken Stories reviews

Review by Festival Daily on 26 Sep 2008 ALGERIA, UNSPOKEN STORIES

offers an uncompromising study of Algeria’s troubled past. Told through the eyes of four

Algerians of Muslim origin, the film invites us to consider the country’s 1962 independence

and the bloody events that followed.

The film’s director, Jean-Pierre Lledo, came to present the screening on Thursday night. Born

in Algeria in 1947, he is Jewish-Berber by his mother and Spanish by his father. He was

forced to leave Algeria in 1993 due to the threat posed to him by Islamic fundamentalists.

This forced ‘exile’ provoked him to readdress unresolved issues concerning Algeria’s colonial

past and struggle for independence, through the medium of film. ALGERIA, UNSPOKEN

STORIES took one year to make and is forbidden in his native country for the unwelcome

stories it uncovers. As LLedo explains, “It’s not officially prohibited, but it’s not authorised.”

The 160-minute running time didn’t once feel too long. Guided entirely by each of its four

narrators, we gain the feeling that we are re-discovering a hidden, ‘unspoken’ past, along with

them. Lledo’s camera tracks them as they return to the places of their childhood or talk to

people involved in the 1962 liberation movement. Katiba Hocine, for example, was born in

Alger in 1949 and grew up first in the Kasbah and then the Bab El Oued, the Pied-noir area.

Her father had been white, her mother ‘brown’, and the young Katiba fitted in to both worlds.

However, returning to these areas today, she is unwelcome, a foreigner. It’s particularly

moving to see her standing on the street she grew up in, whilst youngsters taunt her with racist

remarks, telling her to go back to France. She faces the experience with a sense of humour,

yet Lledo’s intimate portrayal reveals the deep-rooted pain she carries with her. The film’s

final segment is led by 30-year old Kheïreddine Lardjam, currently working on a play by

Algerian-born writer, Albert Camus, entitled LES JUSTES. He explores the multicultural past

of the city of Oran, where Camus set his famous novel LA PESTE (The Plague). Pre-

independence, Spanish, Arabs and Jews lived together in the city, spoke each others’

languages, and forged unforgettable friendships. Kheïreddine’s encounter with men and

women who lived through that time, and who remained there post 1962, reveals some

uncomfortable truths.

Ultimately, the film’s message is that the 1962 independence was not wrong in itself, but the

ethnic hatred it engendered caused many divisions within a community that was at one time

harmoniously diverse. Allowing the people to speak for themselves, and share their own,

personal memories, ALGERIA, UNSPOKEN STORIES doesn’t dictate, but rather

ï  encourages each one of us to think about what really happened, and why. It’s a moving and

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