On his film « Guerre sans images »

Interview with Mohammed Soudani, by Olivier Barlet

Namur, September 2002
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The film sets up an opposition between cinema – a cumbersome process – and photography, which is much less obtrusive.
Michael von Graffenried took the photos over a nearly ten-year period and we went back to look for the people photographed. It was this relationship between the person and the photo that interested me. If I had taken the photographer as the subject, there would have been a transfer. The photos are the protagonists. They introduce me not only to the person photographed, but to their family, milieu, and experiences too. It was an adventure.
Was there at least a spoken contract between you?
I only met him shortly before the film. The agreement was that we would sleep in the same room so that I could get to know Michael better. The film’s honesty lay in the decision not to hide anything and to let people speak, to listen to them. Nothing was planned at the start.
The film starts by recapping history, giving the impression that it’s going to try to answer historic questions throughout – those concerning the relation between the ethical and the political.
When people fail to resolve a political problem, they try to find an alibi to cover it up. A Muslim cannot represent the Prophet, but can give the definition he likes, whether fitting or not, as the current proliferation of the media shows. No one knows what the image can do. We know that the major powers use the media and that wars are fought later once the terrain has been prepared. We are all well aware of the hypocrisy. In Algeria, it is ambient; we stick our heads in the sand. Boumedienne killed many a journalist and writer before the Islamic fundamentalists joined in. I didn’t hold back. This film conveys the experiences of people who have suffered, juxtaposing them with an image that belongs to my own cinematic gaze. I plunged straight in, looking to combine my own and other people’s sincerity.
Do you think that certain circumstances still justify filming with a hidden camera?
Yes, there are still places that need to be penetrated. The people encountered in the film are not very media-savvy and drop their barriers, especially as the camera is small and less intimidating. It would be a different story with intellectuals. It would be fictional. They embellish, narrate… Platitudes and lies are a metaphor of life. We lie to avoid being persecuted. There are things left to uncover in order to understand certain massacres which affected the poor, not the rich. My film is a drop in the ocean…
The film poses the question of forgiveness at the start. Was this question fundamental?
Bouteflika officially put the question of reconciliation on the agenda, but the new generation is not interested in forgiveness anymore. Islam does not caution violence and no religion excuses a pointlessly violent act. Artificial reconciliation is just a bluff to try to heal wounds.
A woman intervenes in the film, criticising the photographer for not highlighting the women’s resistance.
The photographer is a Westerner. I wanted to make an honest film, to be 100% party to it. This woman is right, and even criticised him for being money-grabbing. The chador doesn’t sell anymore. People criticised Michael for not having taken his photos in Algeria! Marketing does enter into it. No one takes photos not to sell them. There’s a struggle between reality and commerce. That comes up regularly in the film: people who ask to be seen as they are. I tried to give the protagonists a voice.
It is striking to see just how aware people are that images are manipulated.
Nowadays, communication only uses striking images. The film shows the astounding clairvoyance of the man in the street. We need to stop selling any old rubbish. This awareness on the part of subjected peoples is not an expert’s awareness; it is that of the people.
Doesn’t the opposition that the Islamic fundamentalist sets up between the minaret and the satellite dish imply that this sensationalist media coverage simply reinforces the fundamentalist position?
Absolutely. He clearly says that they accept the dish whilst waiting to see who will win in the end. Their intentions are very clear, much clearer than anyone else’s. But when you don’t know who is killing whom, and when people think that it is the fundamentalists’ doing, you prefer the army. Common mortals are much more aware than people think. I didn’t go out looking for people who know how to express themselves: TF1 has already filmed them. I looked for people who speak from the heart. And you realise that they are full of hope, but that it is impossible to develop anything with such gut-wrenching fear. The boxer dreams of becoming a champion, but it’s a broken dream.
Why did you choose to end the film on a personal touch?
It was quite by chance, a spark. I wanted to reveal myself. I had unsuccessfully tried to find an ending. When the photographer ironically asked me why I left « this paradise », my answer is the film.
Doesn’t he also say to you, « I know that you know »?
I am probably an accomplice too. Perhaps I speak platitudes to those who speak platitudes to me. I wanted to be with the people who suffer and to give them a chance to speak. Algeria knows what she knows.
After such an experience, what does this film bring you?
It puts things into perspective, gives you the strength to recount without showing the pain, by looking at human stupidity instead. It gives you the strength to ask the question of mankind: why did we get into this situation? I would like very simple reflections that reveal the human beast that is in man. The encounters I had have given me a lot to think about. I needed to make this film.
It is one of History’s terrible ironies: the worst massacres force us to advance.
Hope is very strong. Admitting the massacres makes us stop. These films will make us cry, but won’t change us. What will make us advance is when we ask the question of the imam’s son who plans to assassinate his father because he doesn’t agree with the way in which he leads the mosque anymore. He wants to be a Muslim, but he also wants to be something other too. The massacres leave us distraught, but they make us think too. I hope that they will at least help us to be more humane and to forget our selfishness. There is a future. The desire to live is even greater after the massacres.

///Article N° : 5639


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