L’enfant endormi

By Yasmine Kassari

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« In the past, children were married so they would leave home; now we marry them to bring them home », says Ahmed’s mother: the day after his wedding, he leaves to try his luck abroad. His wife Zeinab, strained as she waits for him to come back, lulls to sleep the child she is carrying to postpone the date of birth. But time goes past, and loneliness increases…
One might think that L’enfant endormi is the fictional counterpart to Yasmine Kassari’s beautiful documentary Quand les hommes pleurent, in which she captures the painful stories of clandestine Moroccan immigrants in Spain. Indeed, those women who stay in their homeland with their children not only suffer the harshness of the land that drives the men away to find a source of survival but also the forced lonesomeness in an essentially female world. However, this would amount to conferring an exclusively sociological value on this fiction. The men never cease to be present off-camera: men awaited each time the bus comes by, men who send group amateur videos in which their freedom of speech is limited, men whose return cannot even be foretold by the blind grandmother’s clock. Their obsessional presence-absence structures the film like the women’s condition: they are both hope and obstacles, angels and demons. Above all, they continue to hover over the women’s future like a sine qua non condition for their self-fulfillment. Whether women choose to be patient in silence like Zeinab or to revolt by considering adultery like Halima, they remain victims of a patriarchy that the mothers see is applied when men are absent. Only the blind grandmother, a surprising mirror of their desires, exhorts them to deviance
It is not with realism that Yasmine Kassari feeds these stories about women but with a meditation on the conditions of their destiny. Even if their destitution and lonesomeness is striking on screen, the vision she offers matches those musics that drown out the voices and pierce the heart, or the slow panoramic shots of the arid and disturbingly beautiful mountains: by seeing the men as compasses, these women lose control of time. By lulling her child to sleep, Zeinab loses control of her biological rhythm. Only when she understands that she cannot hope for anything from a husband who has become too distant is she able to decide on her own.
It is also through this awareness that she too is able to speak out in front of the video and confront her husband. She does so alone, asserting her individuality, while in their exile, the husbands’ presence stays collective: the videos are living letters but, shot in groups, they become anonymous.
Chewing gum, a camera, contraceptive pills hidden under the sheets in the closet, the will to send one’s girl to school where she will discover new ideas like the democracy evoked by the teacher… Modernity infiltrates daily life in this remote part of the world, not as a destabilizing model but as a tool for self-assertion, not as a model in perspective but as a possible appropriation where things can be selected. The lifestyle depicted here is not an archaism that modernity could reform but, despite its harshness, a basis for a possible future.
Therefore, the point was not to paint an easily acceptable picture of a woman who liberates herself from the norm when faced with the weight of her frustrations. Halima (played by Rachida Brakni, a Comédie Française actress, seen in André Téchiné’s Loin and Coline Serreau’s Chaos, the only professional actor in the film) leaves the screen once her so-called transgression is curbed. Her impossible revolt has no future: she fades away into the space off-camera. Zeinab’s awareness is even stronger because we know that there will be no going back from her re-embracing life. By choosing if she wants to give birth to her child, it is to a world where women in Morocco regain dignity, a new world that draws from the present, that she invites all women.

Translated by Céline Dewaele///Article N° : 6688

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