"Algeria, Unspoken Stories": In Search of the Truth By Lofti Ben Khelifa

in 22nd Fribourg International Film Festival

by Lotfi Ben Khelifa

In his documentary Algeria, Unspoken Stories (Algérie, histoires à ne pas dire), the French-Algerian director Jean-Pierre Lledo declares his opposition to the distortion of the country’s history, both before and after the establishment of its independence in 1962. Through the testimony of four people who were there during the 1950s and 1960s, we follow the steps of a nation recovering its memory 45 years after the fact. The lost stories are resurrected when details are evoked with great emotion: Disturbing truths are revealed through nostalgia and weeping.

Actions, assassinations and childhood souvenirs are brought back by these exceptional participants in history. They are motivated by the best days of their lives in Algeria, especially in Skikda, Algiers and Constantine. But are they telling the truth about that past, or lying to us? That’s the question!

Why are these stories still so disturbing to the Algerian people and the present government? (The film is censored in Lledo’s country, and shown only in pirated DVD versions.) It’s a tribute to the good life, and a testament to the peaceful cohabitation between Algeria’s Muslim, Christian and Jewish people; an ode to the fraternity between the French, Algerian and Spanish people who lived in harmony in Algeria in the 1950s. Andalusian, Spanish and French songs were like sacred melodies dedicated to their common way of life, but that life is dead now. Why?

The reconstruction of the past is really impossible, because daily life in Algeria is not really calm. Old hatreds live in the minds of the youth, who oppose recognizing the ancient citizens of Algeria: the weight of colonization still exists! Reconciliation is very difficult, as everyone has his own version of the same story — but what a story, and what a history!

The film analyzes the nation’s past in exacting detail, when Algeria’s different peoples were able to live together in peace in spite of everything around them. The film explodes the clichés of the Algerian war to offer a new interpretation of the reality, as related by eyewitnesses.

Algeria, Unspoken Stories is a documentary which finds stories staying alive in the memories of storytellers, and provides an opportunity to remember the recent history of Algeria. The film is an invitation to Algerian youth, and new generations in general, to think about a future that might hold a chance to build new lives based on love, peace and genuine cohabitation. This film is an exploration of the memory and the Algerian identity in two and a half hours — a long documentary which asks some very important questions about key details of Algerian history.