The recent international cinema has more often focused on Algeria in different aspects but mentioning every time the civil war and its civil tragedies. The French Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux) by Xavier Beauvois and Canadian Academy Award nominated Monsieur Lazhar, directed by Philippe Falardeau and starring with Algerian refugee Mohamed Fellag, both showed special interest in the region’s domestic conflict. They concentrated on the innocent Algerian people who had to deal with the war and suffered from it. In The Repentant (Le Repenti) we’re moving closer to the theme of the civil war and we can see the unsolved consequences of the controversial policy of civil concord. Algerian born director Merzak Allouache grew up during the Algerian struggle for independence hence he has direct memories about this dark episode of Algeria’s history. Now Mr. Allouache decided to dedicate a movie to the recent state of Algeria and we can clearly see the post-war difficulties, the suffering of people, the sadness in their souls and the normal human request for the solution which hasn’t arrived yet. The Repentant (Le Repenti) deals with an un-talked legacy of the past where innocent people were hurt and but society still lives together with their shadows. The film is about a jihadist, who one day decides to escape from his chosen life, coming down from the mountain travels to the capitol and entering a police station to give a statement and give up his weapon. According to the civil concord he can’t be punished because of any crime. But this amnesty gives him just a relative freedom. Escaping from his previous life is not possible after he meets a pharmacist whose child was killed because he refused to service terrorists. The pharmacist’s life collapsed and he was separated from his wife, but meeting the jihadist tears the old wound open.
Merzak Allouache tries to keep distance from the stereotypes and gives a human aspect to the jihad. He rather focuses on the people involved directly or indirectly in the war and helps a foreigner to understand the deep frustration of the society. The way of storytelling is slow moving, Allouache giving time for the emotions and the atmosphere. The relations and causes come slowly into the plot. First we see the events from the viewpoint of the terrorist who comes home to his parents then leaves again for the city. We move slowly from him to the other characters and see the victims living their desperate lives and the daily routine they’re trying to forget. The high and artistic level of the cinematography is remarkable in these shots but is also consistently above the average standard for the entire movie. The director asks the question whether un-punishment of the terrorists would be the right solution but the answer is going with the wind in a terrific last scene which can be probably the only ending for a story like this. Allouache holds a mirror to the society. He’s not reflecting with this image to us but to the people in Algeria; showing the passivity of the society just as in the real life – and urging everyone to become active. I really felt at the beginning that this domestic conflict will be an insider story but soon realized the tragedy and deeply sympathized with the parents in their loss and also appreciated the film’s universal human aspects. And what to do in the same situation? That’s the question we have to take with us after the screening and the answer and judgment is also depending on us.
And because of this stylish filmmaking Mr. Allouache deserves all the attention and respect for The Repentant which won the FIPRESCI Prize in the competition section at 17th Kerala Film Festival.
Edited by Steven Yates
© FIPRESCI 2012