‘Every destiny, however long and complicated is only really about one unique moment, when a man knows once and for all who he is’ Jorges Luis Borges – Suere. Synopsis Targeted by fundamentalist terrorism, an Algerian film-maker finds himself in France, forty years after the exodus of his community of origin and his own Jewish-Spanish […]
‘Every destiny, however long and complicated
is only really about one unique moment,
when a man knows once and for all who he is’
Jorges Luis Borges – Suere.
Targeted by fundamentalist terrorism, an Algerian film-maker finds himself in France, forty years after the exodus of his community of origin and his own Jewish-Spanish family following the independence of his country in 1962.
Haunted by the phantoms of a history, which is subject to a taboo in Algeria, and muted in France, he resolves to confront them during a long, filmed journey. Through chance meetings in the towns where he shows his films, many people, young and old, who are all carrying within themselves a part of Algeria, help him to go over the unhappy history of the last half-century. A French soldier in the Algerian war in Bavonne, a colonialist in Grenoble, a Pied-noir parachutist in Cannes, Communists from Oran in Marseille, his Spanish uncle from Oran in Nice, a Turkish-Italian-French-Algerian pied-noir at Perpignan. An wine-taster close to the OAS, recently married to an Algerian woman in Lonzac, a pied-noir friend from university looking back on his life in Algeria after 1962 in Montpellier. Between the mourning for the assassinated Kabyle singer Lounes Matoub and the Franco-Algerian fraternity after the World Cup in 1998, the author tacks between colonial prejudice and nationalist myths, trying, not without humour, to negotiate the imbroglio of his characters identities – and of his own.
Jew? Muslim? Christian? Pied-noir? Arab? Berber? Spanish? Turkish? French? Algerian?
Is the aim of his frenzied filming while travelling through France, to remake the puzzle of his dream for a mixed, pluralist Algeria or to open up a reconciliation which the politicians are unable to do?
‘But the brother whose happiness I wanted, got up to hit me. Oh well I will clear out.’
(Lounis Aït Menguelet – Ay Agu (The Fog) Algerian poet of Kabyle origins).
Algeria(s), my Phantoms
a film by Jean-Pierre Lledo
1998 – 2004 – 1h46. Beta num Color. Dialogues : french.
Subtitled in English, and Hebrew.
Scenario, Direction, Camera, Sound: Jean-Pierre Lledo; Editing: Dominique Greussay.
Coproduced by Naouel Films and Iskra with TV5. Shown on TV5 in 2004.
Film Festivals: FIPA 2005, Special Mention at the 5th Biennial of Films of the Arab World, in Paris. Mediterranean Festival Brussels, La Rochelle, Screen documentaries, Arcueil, New York.
The idea for this film
‘Every destiny, however long and complicated
is only really about one unique moment,
when a man knows once and for all who he is’
Jorges Luis Borges – Suere.
This film is the result of my double experience as an exile and as a filmmaker. As I was among the first lists of intellectuals to be targeted by the fundamentalists, forced by my nearest and dearest to leave, I found myself in France in June 1993, an unexpected situation which plunged me into a state of extreme confusion. Doubtlessly to avoid my own self-questioning, I travelled across France, accepting the slightest invitation to speak about contemporary Algeria, accompanied usually by my films. During a projection, a debate, a few drinks, I became the conductor of a crazy emotion…
People who had been thrown into conflict with one another in the past, or who at least had been separated, began to mix with one another, speak and resonate together. And three things in particular overwhelmed me.
An exceptional solidarity which betrays an incomparable relationship between these two countries, persuaded me of the presence in France of a real Algerian imaginary, an exact replica of the French imaginary in Algeria (one being as hard to admit as the other). There is a Jewish-pied-noir population, which claims its Algerianness and sees itself as having been in exile for forty years. And a young generation of ‘beurs’ who, conversely, and without reservation, claims its Frenchness.
And while I went from one town to another, from one meeting to another, I gained the impression that I was collecting these confessions for the first time, as though only someone from ‘over there’ could finally listen to them, I became more and more aware that they were making me reconsider my own taboos and forcing me to confront a sadness that until then I had brushed away.
My desire to film was there, ineradicable: to bring together what history had separated. To rebuild the puzzle of an Algeria we had dreamt together. By filming France.
My first title for this film was ‘Here, and over there’. Everything that I filmed in France after I arrived in 1993 spoke of exile. Exile is a form of involuntary emigration; it poses even more violently the obscure problem of ‘identity’. This pushed me to see clearly, to revisit history and its taboos, which until now I had approached through the intermediary of others. I knew then that one day or another I would no longer be able to escape talking about myself – something I had resisted until then, because I saw it as rather obscene – and therefore to make an autobiographical film. I was full of apprehension when I started to make this film. I forced myself into this adventure with one hope: to get out of the stagnation I had been plunged into after I had left Algiers, to understand why I had not wanted to leave, why it seemed more desirable to die rather than to leave, so that just one year later I returned to film, certainly with a hidden camera, but going from town to town without attempting to hide my face. Why had I given death another chance to catch me? This could be linked to the experience of all the exiles in the world. Or to my separation from friends and family. Did I want to contribute ‘European’ blood to democracy in the way that others had given theirs for Independence? My identity was absolutely linked to the dream of the multi-ethnic Algeria in which I had grown up, was it going to dissolve in France? This France in which I found all these Algerian phantoms I had managed to avoid for forty years, and which were not going to leave me in peace now.
Naming the film helped me in the process of filming and editing, while also giving a name to all these dead, wandering in the unconscious, who have not been fully mourned. What I had dreaded most when I left Algeria, were these phantoms. Without knowing at the outset, I was setting out to confront them by taking a camera, and they were to help me to find a structure for the film and incidentally to physically heal my skin, because the skin on my hands had completely dried up several months after arriving in France, and six years later became smooth again, after a year of filming alone.
I began to film as soon as I could buy myself a camera and two good microphones. This was in March 1998. I had recently become fifty years old. Until that age you think about your future. The time had come for me to think about my past.
Filming took a year: between 1998-1999, from one spring to another. Almost everywhere, the same ritual: I was invited to present my films somewhere in France, I replied to questions from the audience and I spoke to them about my present project. Those who accepted were filmed. This never failed to surprise me: in fact they already knew quite a lot about me.
During this year I also filmed when I returned to Paris. Public events, which were linked to the theme of the film: an assembly at the Place de la République after the assassination of the singer Lounes Matoub. The participation of the singer Enrico Macias at a concert of Andalusian music at the Algerian Cultural Centre, to an audience of Jews and Muslims from Constantine who sang and danced together. The commemoration of the massacres of Algerians on the 17th October 1971 on the Pont Saint-Michel and of Charonne in February 1962. Popular jubilation where the French and Algerian flags were united at the Arc de Triomphe, saluting the victory of the ‘black, white and beur’ French football team at the World Cup final. A total of 150 hours of cine-journalism. To film day and night even in the world of the insomniacs, and they are numerous, is not as simple as I had thought at the outset. The camera on my shoulder, ready to be used at any moment, became heavier and heavier. When my camera was stolen, I could hardly believe my relief, as though someone had taken a burden away.
Each meeting is real, a meeting where both parties have to find one another and drive back the barriers. The possibility of an exchange, is at a price, especially when it involves (as it often does) delicate questions: with an ex-para pied noir, or the daughter of a harki. The need to exchange is more important than polemics. Mu interlocutor and I had to be careful to avoid any conflict. Once we had identified one another’s limitations, there was a tacit agreement to push them back without ever violating them. Obviously I only spoke to individuals, not to the representatives of organizations.
Gradually I became aware that those who spoke, often for the first time for decades, did so because they felt that someone was listening to them at last. As though only someone ‘from over there’ could really hear them. I realised also that the post-independence consensus had made us intellectuals – especially us –deaf or autistic and that it had been necessary for internal violence to crack open our narcissism so that we could listen and make others want to speak to us. This ‘other’ was very patient because he had waited forty years. My need to return to my origins which had been repressed for forty years – when the European community left Algeria in 1962 – this need had its equivalent in each of my characters.
The French soldier and torture …
The chid of an immigrant and his shame at having an Algerian father in the 1950s…
The little ‘coloniser’ and the law on nationalisation …
France had to be there, constantly, through its rivers, its towns, its architecture and its inhabitants. My first idea for this film, was to reconstitute the puzzle of an imaginary Algeria with pieces of France. This is exactly the posture of the exile: feet here, head over there. This idea is not just formalistic. France has never been so Algerian and Algeria so French as since the end of colonialism. Half of the population of France has a strong link with Algeria: soldiers, immigrants, pieds-noirs, harkis, voluntary workers, their children and grand-children. As for Algeria, all children’s education and the satellite dish (it’s the country in the world with the most satellite dishes!) have developed French more than 132 years of colonisation!
This film is like a necklace and I have had to fish for each pearl. Each of these pearls is a character. Each character is a wound, a resentment a reflection. The necklace, this multiple Algeria, conflictual but also fraternal has never been, could have been or will perhaps be.
Sticking back together
To stick back the broken fragments, yes, but not as before, without the vices of previous forms. My whole film proceeds with this aim to repair. Faced with a history which operated on the basis of exclusion, my film proceeds by inclusion. Thus, the journey, moving towards the other, refusing to stay in one place, but to move on once more. To move towards the other to stop going in circles. With the hope of reading clearly what is most confusing in myself. A way of practising introspection, without the solitude which normally goes with it.
In space and in time. Not a way back to my origins, but a place of transition between the present and the past where a new identity will be created. A place where neither the moving body nor thought can become rooted. The body they wanted to kill, flees, moves to escape from paralysing representations, to think of itself differently. To win something new as a compensation for loss. To play with loss, that is perhaps the definition of humour. To accept defeat in good grace. I only know that in the editing I noticed that the last character in the film is the only one to show humour.
‘One cannot remake History’
Contrary to the adage I believe the opposite. Is this pretentiousness or naïveté? Without this my films would not exist. I am convinced that we are not products of an ‘immutable’ or ‘irreversible’ History. That is doubtless, the only good news from these recent decades. Another look, another vision and a new chance has been given to us to begin a new version.
It makes you look back at yourself, to reconsider the past. A chance for those who wish, who can take it, to gain a truth, a lucidity for those who have escaped the country. The worst thing for the exiled is to remain attached when he no longer has a physical connection. To deny the present. Or inversely to escape the past. It is better to occupy one’s new territory, a transitional territory for travelling people, to be a traveller.
The great revelation of my exile has been the strength of the attraction to the land. It cannot be equalled either by the attraction of language nor of religion. After having made distinctions, religions and languages have given way to territorial belonging.
They are the sign of a bad conscience, of the work of mourning which needs to be done. To recognise death in order to reintegrate it into the community. You can never get rid of a death. You can ignore it but it will not ignore you. If it is no longer to haunt you, it must take up residence in you. It is a perilous exercise, a dangerous commerce, but inevitable.
The wish to dissect hybridity. Not to join a clan, or an ethno-religious ghetto, or a prison. Quite the contrary, to escape it, to seize liberty. The more multiple one’s origins the more things become confused. To be silent about origins to try to reconcile them is to give credit to the idea of purity, based on that of a ‘single’ origin, always mythical, dangerous because its corollary is purification.
The Exiled, the Native
The exile’s questions about identity awaken those of the native like a ricochet. It forces him out of his native comfort and to ask himself about his own origins. Each one confronts the other; they have to leave behind innocence and easy conscience. Are not the most dynamic societies those, which are the most open to the foreigner, the most mixed? The modern nation is honoured that others wants to live there, while the ‘pure’ nation is suspicious. One day however our identity cards will only show our place of birth and a series of addresses in different countries.
Extracts from the film
Miloud Zaater (exiled journalist)
‘When I arrived here, I encountered the drama of the pieds-noirs, the jews the harkis, the emigrants, of their children, of all those who once came out of Algeria’s womb, who were hurt after violent ruptures. They all suffered and they were all scapegoats. But they all, accuse History, it is true that History is on the bench of the accused’
Madeleine Galvez (Oranaise living in Marseille)
OK I may be European, French or Spanish in origins, my origins are one thing but I was born in Algeria, I am Algerian, for me there is no problem. In any case, me I have no religion, because I am not at all religious, I am an atheist, religious don’t interest me, people are what interests me, life, people, but religious do not interest me…’
‘When I was a kid, I lived in a courtyard where there were Gypsies, Arabs, Jews in fact we were all mixed. Every time there was a festival, it was quite simple, we participated, we all took part. When the gypsies had a festival for example they sat in the middle of the yard, then they got up on a little platform and all the kids danced around the guitar, Arabs, Jews whatever. Then if there was a marriage, or a baptism it was the same. We visited one another. That’s it. We shared everything, even the fleas!’