Interview with Azzedine Meddour, by Olivier Barlet

Paris, December 1997
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Do Djendel and Baya represent the contrast between realism and instinct?
Djendel is a samourai who belongs to the Djouat warrior caste. After so much warring, he is tired of men, and returns to the womb the cavern represents. He sees Baya act, and she is ultimately the one who reconciles him with love and fighting. Baya is not instinctive, she is pure: the daughter of a popular saint, brought up in the respect of values. Plunged into the midsts of this chaos, she seeks to revive these values. These beings maintain a balance in the world. They remind us that we can not eternally thwart respect for humankind.
Is that where you situate the topicality of the film?
Yes, the real conflict is amongst the Algerians themselves. The French invasion is simply a repetition of ancient history. The catalyzer come from outside, for example Iran, the Sudan, or Saudi Arabia today, but we are fighting amongst ourselves…
Why resort to a myth?
Baya is not a myth yet. Perhaps it will become one for the Algerians. Our society is in desperate need of references. Thirty years of the single party state have worn people down and occulted the models furnished by the oral tales and poetry. 1963 was a coup d’Etat. A single hero was proclaimed: the people. But not those who had fought for seven years. The people were used as a pretext to take over power, and those who fought in the war of liberation were caste off by the wayside. Boudief is a good example, resurfacing only thirty years later. Where can a generation without heros find its models? It seeks them in Afghanistan, hence the current situation!
When Baya says to her son Meziane « your father knew how to do all that », are you positing genealogy as a way of resolving the present situation?
We want to tell stories using the signs and codes that are profoundly anchored within our culture. In North African culture, children are educated through tales. Baya teaches her son the initiatory stages; she reminds him of his father and of her continuing faithfulness to him
Are you trying to affirm a Berber identity?
Not at all: it is an Algerian film. It is not because you adopt a religion that you change your ethnic belonging. Arab and Berber speakers live together. The film does not belong to one religious group. The rituals seen in the film are present throughout the whole of Algeria and the Mediterranean.
What is the sense of honour Baya seeks to defend?
Baya has been humiliated and tries to rid herself of this humiliation. When injustice reigns, you try to do justice yourself. It is less a matter of honour than of dignity. Without being Tarzans or Zorros, the Algerians today resist by trying to affirm their dignity. We live out this film every day in Algeria.
Which brings us on to the explosion that cost the lives of fourteen members of the crew…
Yes, there was a strong identification between the film and what is going on in Algeria amongst the film crew… It was such a coincidence…
Back and low lighting predominate in the film: what motivated this choice?
The film is extremely violent and the light serves as a counterpoint. I also wanted to recreate Algeria’s gentle light, and to break with a sordidness that has become a set aesthetic canon: to rediscover the charisma of faces using non-professional actors and to react to the reality with the beautiful.
Will the film be shown on Algerian television?
Of course, once it has been distributed in the cinemas. There has even been talk of making it into a serial, but the television still lacks resources. We are also going to bring out an Arab version when we have enough money, but the number of movie theatres is terribly limited.
What are the prospects for cinema in Algeria?
The devaluation of the dinar has made things very difficult: the appreciable endowment from the ministry only covered the cost of the film stock… It is impossible for our films to be profitable on the domestic market outside the State system. There is a risk of reinforcing all the clichés created by the colonial cinema and Western society. Our aim is, of course, the very opposite: to speak about ourselves in a way in which we have never been considered in order to reappropriate our own image. We hope to surprise and capture the interest of the Other.

///Article N° : 5296


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