French films whose characters are North Africans, Africans or Caribbeans, or of North African, African or Caribbean descent usually receive the social problem treatment: they are shot in stark realist style, à la Loach or Dardenne brothers; they are strong films with a social conscience. Not so Andalucia by Alain Gomis, a comedy built around a protagonist, who seems to me to originate in the conjunction of Yacine, the character envisioned by Gomis, and the life of the actor who plays him, Samir Guesmi. The film consists of a series of vignettes of urban life, in all of which Yacine is present either as a reluctant participant or as a fascinated observer.
Born in France to Algerian parents, Yacine is a French citizen, and his problem, if he has one, lies neither in his origin nor his status. Yacine lives in a caravan near a circus; we see him looking at the audition of a young acrobat in the circus tent. Dounia is Chilean, and she and Yacine end up in bed in an atmosphere of mirth and delight. Yet the next time Dounia visits him, Yacine is completely uncommunicative and non-committal, and Dounia leaves. We next see him in an elementary school, wallowing with the kids in paints of all colors; serving soup in an open air kitchen wit “double helpings for all!”; as a tourist guide on a bus teaching his delighted clients to sing “Milord” with new, improved and improper lyrics; as an extra on a film shoot; in conversation with his father who is polishing auto body parts and whom he asks whether he likes his job.
As he breezes through temporary part-time jobs and through life in general, Yacine seems not earthbound, but lighter than air; his interaction with others, his reactions to events often surprise, and he may appear a purposeless drifter, almost like a zombie looking at people and events with his unblinking dark eyes. Yet it progressively emerges that his way of life is a matter of choice: he does not wish to live with his family, nor do a regular job, nor have a real apartment, nor even a permanent girlfriend. “No ties, he says, so that I can be off when I want to.” Samir Guesmi’s Yacine is a character, one of these comedians who are benighted innocents, funny because they are clumsy, and touching because one senses under their breezy manner, their jokes and non-sequiturs a certain maladjustment, a hankering after a different world and a different life à la Stan Laurel, Harry Langdon, or to some extent Pierre Richard. One of Yacine’s friends says: “He has not found his inner peace”.
There is a close, easy complicity between Gomis and Guesmi; the filmmaker, the artistic director and the cinematographer have devised a way of filming and, through the use of colors, a visual style which is distinctive and entirely appropriate for Yacine’s behavior and for Guesmi’s appearance.