Interview with Yamina Bachir-Chouikh, by Olivier Barlet

Cannes, May 2002
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By entering the drama right away, you make an immediate choice – that of stating rather than explaining.
Yes, because I have no power over the ins and outs of what is going on. All I hold is daily life, what I live and have been through. That’s why I focused the film on the human, on what I feel deep down, on what’s around me and what I have been party to. I am not a historian, or a politician, or a sociologist, and I don’t hold the truth. All I could do, therefore, was recount my own day-to-day experiences and those of the people around me.
Rachida’s mother cries, « What is this religion that gives people permission to kill like this? » Do people in Algeria still believe in the terrorists’ religious faith today?
The Muslim fundamentalists played on people’s religious feelings, but people aren’t fooled any more. It was mainly young people who fell into the trap of this discourse because they had no reference points anymore. They were living in a society where people had always lied to them. People hadn’t told them about their age-old history, about this country that is also part of humanity. This spurned and forgotten youth had the impression that someone was listening to and respected them for the first time, even in this Machiavellian discourse. They entered this movement and there was no turning back. It’s a failure of Algerian society that our youths became involved in the most horrible barbarity.
The fighters we see in your film are extremely young.
They’re just kids! They’re cannon fodder. Other people came and tricked them, pushing them to the extreme. This was possible because was because the climate was right for them to be deceived yet again. Terrorists aren’t the stereotypical tousle-haired guys with big beards and gleaming eyes. No, they are youngsters, Algerians, they are good-looking, they are our children who have been taught hatred and have got involved in something that is beyond them. It’s a terrible failure.
Do you think your film risks giving the impression that there is no way back out?
I think that what I express is confined to this situation. There is a lot of hope in the film. I simply say that I don’t have the answers. If there hadn’t been hope, the country would have descended into total chaos. All these children, who are like they are in real life in the film, have stopped the country from foundering. It’s not my role to judge. I wanted to speak about what I was feeling, what hurt me and what I found unjust. I tried to understand why we had got into this situation. They had already had so much blame heaped on them that there was no point in me adding another layer.
The film’s ending indeed seems to call for the restoration of a school that promotes the notion of citizenship.
We have no right to indoctrinate children. Children are not bad; they turn bad because it is instilled in them. I am hopeful that we can teach them something other than hatred and the refusal of the other.
Your main character is a woman. That brings to mind Rachida Krim’s Sous les pieds des femmes or a discussion with René Vautier who thought that if woman had been given the right to speak out more in Algeria, things would have been different today. Is that something that your film tries to suggest?
I don’t want to reduce the Algerian problem to the segregation imposed on women. It is true that it’s a huge issue, but I don’t think that only women are subjected to it. A whole segment of the Algerian population is subjected to it and that explains why we have ended up where we are today. It’s maybe because I am a woman and a mother that I chose a woman as my main character, and because it is woman who gives life and not death. In my mind, a society has to be built together. I didn’t want my discourse to be just feminine at all. It is true that women and children are the first to pay in all the conflicts in the world, whilst they represent present and future life. Men are above all afraid of women, afraid of this part they have in them too, hence this segregation. But at no time did I mean to say that only women suffer in Algeria, or that it is the women who are courageous. It is all the anonymous masses seen in my film who are brave and who swell the lists of the dead.
The last Arab Film Biennale in Paris screened a number of films that made reference to the denial of sexuality in Algeria, suggesting that the non-recognition of man’s duality could be a factor that generates violence.
These are ancient, age-old systems. The diminished somewhat in the West with the advent of democracy, but deep down, man’s viewpoint has not changed. Our problem is that we have remained too shut in on ourselves and in our rigidities, that we value things that aren’t in keeping with the times anymore. We are out of step, still immersed in this world of the past, which regulated all human societies in the same way. Women are considered weak all over the world, not just in Muslim societies, only laws have been made in certain places and things have evolved. Things have yet to change in our country. You can’t change ancient ways by making a film. It takes time. We will manage. There’s no point in stigmatising; we have to be lucid. We won’t change things by confronting them head-on, only with intelligence. Head-on desires for change cause terrible human tragedies!
Your character claims to be an exile in her own country. What can people trust in today?
It’s an individual combat that is nonetheless part of an ensemble, in which there is homogeneity. Rachida isn’t alone. There’s her mother, the little girl who dreams of escaping to the moon, the young man who loves and want to be able to love, etc. The problematic is to try to create a communion, each with his or her hope and vision of things. The common link is this quest to be oneself, to be free inside, to be able to think as you like and not to be considered a pariah or an outcast because you don’t fit into the mould people try to for you into. I start out with a teacher and a school; everything is built from there. Society entrusts its children, who are blank pages, to schools. We have no right to play with our children’s futures, to instil hatred, to teach them intolerance and the refusal of the other, thereby creating the Algerian tragedy!
In certain historic contradictions, the human mind develops situations of extreme horror. Do you think that your film risks contributing to the loss of markers that that provokes?
I hope not! I only say to people that it’s up to them to find the answers. I try to get the people who come to see this story involved, but I can only appeal to them. I tackled this story in a humane manner to reach the universal, thinking that people other than the Algerians would be ably to identify with it too. Violence has no face and knows no boundaries. Beware of the ingredients that spark it off!
Given the way in which the media speaks less and less about Algeria, one sometimes gets the impression that it’s already past history. Were you worried about losing out on the topicality by choosing film, which takes such a long time?
No, because the news hasn’t changed, even if it is on a smaller scale now. I didn’t want to follow the news; I wanted to speak about violence and hope. I can’t see any difference between what’s going on in Algeria and what’s going on in Palestine today, in terms of the means employed because one group considers that the other doesn’t have the right to exist. I still find Algerian current affairs very painful, but the question isn’t whether this violence is outdated or not. It’s our planet that will be in danger if we continue to refuse one another. Look at the recent French elections: the monster of exclusion still abounds! These massacres happened. We have to speak about them!
You naturally take a risk by taking this risk. Is this heightened or the continuity of the risk already involved in living in Algeria?
I don’t know. When you live in a country where you’re never sure if you’re going to come back when you leave your home, making a film does not change the risk! When I wrote the story, I took this risk alone. Now I have got a whole crew involved, all the people who participated in the film… But we won’t advance if we don’t take any risks. I don’t have it in me to kill and I couldn’t take up arms. I could only give hope and testify through film.

///Article N° : 5607


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