From film to film, Moknèche repeats his vision of a contradictory Algeria, both culturally ingrained and penetrated by the outside, but which cannot be reduced to a tradition / modernity opposition. Claiming individual conscience born from the European Renaissance as an inescapable perspective, he builds unconventional and vivid characters, and yet torn by contingencies, who throw themselves unconditionally toward a still unattainable libertarian future and end up with scars. This existential melody imposes its themes and rhythm on films that often start with a bang but quickly calm to wed the intimate breath of these self-willed yet necessarily lucid women. For it is from women that Moknèche draws the energy to question as well as the bitterness of lost fights that traverse his film. His two favorite actresses, Biyouna and Nadia Kaci, therefore embody the intricate dynamics of a society yearning for changes while having manifold hang-ups.
It is no surprise that after naming his last film Viva l’Aldjérie, he should be naming Biyouna Mme Aldjéria, appointing her to represent her country on her own. Proclaiming herself « national benefactress », in return for money and in strict illegality, she fixes up everybody’s problems. From commercial competitions to desires for divorce, she even offers « escort girl » services from a catalogue for those in need of love. It is hardly very moral, then, this dishonest business that enables her to accumulate the wealth needed to make her dream come true: to buy and restore Caracalla baths where she used to go as a child, named after this emperor who granted Roman citizenship to all freemen throughout the empire. It is therefore a return to the sources that Mme Aldjéria is dreaming of, this great rejuvenating bath that would give her country its dignity back.
It is also about making it in a two-track society, where the corrupted control those who are left out. We again find this harshness in the little family she recruits and supports: her own son, Ryad, being doomed to serve her schemes if he wants to leave one day to look for his Italian father. Yet, he has no real delusion about the possibility of finding him but exile to Europe remains the only prospect in a rotten world. It would also allow him to escape from the absolute yoke her mother exerts on her little microcosm on the 17th terraced floor of the Lafayette building, with its amazing view of the white town, which the director so loves to caress with his camera’s eye.
Apart from the wily lawyer played by the excellent Lyes Salem (he directed Jean-Farès and Cousines), Ryad is the only man of the clan. Mme Aldjéria’s introduction of the beautiful Paloma (played by Argentinean Aylin Prandi) whom Ryad quickly falls in love with, adds some sand to the well-oiled machine of the money-making business. She destabilizes the mysterious Shéhérazade who, until then, was the seduction asset of an Aldjéria always quick to please her customers’ desires.
If the film begins with its end, as Mme Aldjéria leaves jail after doing three years having, as she puts it, « paid her debt », before continuing with the opening credits that scroll on a cloverleaf intersection, an intercrossing of paths that a battered country is now taking, it is so Aldjéria can, in voice-over, tell her personal story, sets flashbacks, and with her warm low voice can capture the viewer’s adhesion who makes out the human motives. This subtle coming and going emphasizes the derision of the resistible rise of the little clan trying their hands at imitating the great corrupted.
With such characters, Moknèche is less concerned with denouncing manipulation and corruption than showing how they flow in the veins of the country. Above all, by making Mme Aldjéria so close and likeable, though possessive and immoral, he traps the inclination for ethical rejection to instill an idea already there in his other films: without building on its own chaos, this society will be incapable of defining its future. » In other words, it has to accept itself with its flaws, its History and its pure hybridity in order to, beyond a purist discourse of identity, join modernity and to find its place in the world.
The systematic recourse to French in Moknèche’s films derives from the same reflection: it is not in rejecting a part of yourself, even if the fruit of a painful past that you can move forward. Such statements against the grain of the country’s History would not work without the characters having a true depth. Sometimes some dialogue verges on pathos or the banal, but since the hysterical figures in Harem of Madame Osmane, Moknèche, often compared to the Spaniard Almodovar, has calmed to explore the depth and to embrace the pathos of the Algerian condition. The quiet strength of the contradictory Biyouna / Mme Aldjéria follows the neurosis of Spanish Carmen Maura / Mme Osmane. While the latter repeated the system she was subjected to for her child, Aldjéria, in the last image of the film, alone follows her own unconventional way, cutting through a flock of sheep. Even bruised, she still has dreams and remains the sole master of her destiny.
Delice Paloma is a gripping and moving film, interpreted by excellent actors and is undoubtedly the author’s most convincing.
Translated by Sutarni Riesenmey///Article N° : 6886