NYU Black Renaissance Noire Spring 2015 - Page 131

8 May 1945 in the Algerian cinema When France was celebrating the liberation of Paris, thousands of Algerians among the freshly demobilised war veterans were massacred for having dared to aspire to their share of freedom. The French public only learned of the serious consequences of the events of May 1945 long afterwards, primarily through the testimonies of certain people, but also through an Algerian film acclaimed, yet hardly viewed: Chronique des années de braise [Chronicle of the Years of Fire, also called Chronicle of the Years of Embers or the Blazing Years, 1975] by Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina. After that, total silence. Until 13 May 2010, when Hors-la-Loi [Outside the Law, 2010] premiered; a film in which Rachid Bouchareb reflects on the famous dream of recovered freedom from Nazism that had indelibly marked him on that same day, a few hours away. When they had applauded his Indigènes [Days of Glory, 2006], a few years earlier in that same Palais de Festivals, those people nostalgic for colonialism turned a blind eye to the calls for freedom expressed by the Maghribian infantrymen who had contributed with their life’s blood to free France from Nazism. This time round, the film revealed the full paralysis contained in a colonial culture that was still very much alive, with a section of the French population not having renounced the idea. Yet in 2009, two Algerian women, Yasmina Adi and Mariem Hamidat, produced damning testimony on the reality of the massacres committed in May 1945 by the French army and the Fascist militia of Petain. Produced and distributed by French Television, these two documentaries were harsher than Outside the Law. Their distribution did not make waves like the film by Bouchareb. The first was made up of images filmed by René Vautier, Djamel Chanderli, but above all, Stevan Labudovic, and it was presented as a film and archive, directed at international delegations at the un. Djazaïrouna [Our Algeria, 1960] was designed for informing the western world about the nature of the struggle. It was finished by Mohamed Lakhdar Hamina with the help of Pierre Chaulet. The second, Yasmina (1961), aimed to attract the attention of international public opinion to the situation resulting from the colonial war. For M’hamed Yazid, Minister of Information of the gpra at the time, Djazaïrouna was intended to reach the minds, and Yasmina, the hearts. He liked to say, “Yasmina was designed to be a tear-jerker.” Yasmina was produced by Mohamed Lakhdar Hamina and Djamel Chanderli and was, in a way, the first Algerian film of fiction. It is based on the story of a little girl who speaks from a child’s perspective. “My father,” she says, “died without making a sound. I didn’t cry, perhaps because I was frightened...” By integrating foreign, militant filmmakers, many of them French, the fln succeeded in projecting a modernist view of the revolutionary aspirations of the Algerian people. Algerian cinema received due recognition in the very midst of the struggle for liberty. It was therefore to be expected that the independent Algerian State would give it its unqualified permanent support, which, in the end, did not come to be. BRN-SPRING-2015.indb 129 It only goes to prove yet again that a fiction film makes a stronger impact than documentaries. While the American cinema was capable of addressing the Vietnamese war when it was at its height, with such films as The Deer Hunter (1978) by Cimino and Apocalypse Now (1979) by Coppola, the French cinema for its part, during the fifties and sixties, observed a deafening silence on the subject of our liberation war. When Bouchareb takes on the issue of liberty for the demobbed soldiers recounted in Indigènes, he continues the parallel between the liberation of Paris and the demonstrations in Setif on 8 May 1945. He goes on to attack the Gaullist double standards about the resistance to the foreign occupant and the betrayal of the founding principles of the French Republic: Liberty, Fraternity, Equality. More than the re-stating of historical evidence (widely recognised by historians) about the massacres of May 45, more than the bloody repression of the demonstrations of October 1961 in Paris, it is this accusing finger pointing at the betrayal of the Republican discourse that most upset people on the other side of the Mediterranean. The attacks of the press and the hate campaigns orchestrated against the film were also belied by the consecration of Outside the Law in the top five of the Oscars in Hollywood, unlike Des dieux et des hommes [Of Gods and Men, 2010], (not that this film’s worth is put into question), with which the French cinema tried to oppose Hors-la -Loi. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE In 1960, the gpra decided to produce two films to prepare international public opinion for the debate on the Algerian question at the United Nations. 129 The Algerian question at the United Nations 3/29/15 11:42 AM