The Cinema of Cruelty

in 23rd Carthage Film Festival

by Ahmed Bouhrem

If we want to find a common denominator between the majorities of films in the international competition, it would be, undoubtedly, the recurrence of the theme of death. This issue is present in various degrees in the productions of this 24th edition of the JCC.

In La pirogue by Moussa Touré, for example, death accompanies the prospective migrants throughout their journey: it starts with the boat out of fuel in the sea, due to the failure of their own engine, culminating in a storm which kills the overwhelming majority of them. Death is omnipresent in the sea. Dreams’, cradle of the young and the not so young, the boat became their coffin. Only three out of the thirty people survive by their arrival at the Caribbean Islands. Their silence in the last shot is more than evocative of the suffering of those who were enthusiastic and dreamers at the beginning of the trip and of those who aspired to a better life and have found themselves in the starting box. This silence is not only an expression of pain, it also reflects an inner joy, a relief that they are unable to express or rather do not dare to exteriorize out of modesty and respect for their missing companions in the sea. They really are newborn individuals.

No misery, no pathos, the filmmaker seeks neither an executioner nor a victim, he just allows us to see and to live a human adventure which, again, has gone wrong.

In Nabil Ayouch’s Horses of God, death takes on another dimension. Unlike the previous movies, it is not an accidental event which is feared thus becoming the bearer of doom. Rather, it is sought and desired. Given orders by their superiors, a group of Islamists: Hamid, a gangster who became Islamist after his incarceration, Yashine, his brother, followed suit, and with them are Nabil and Fouad. Those who desire it get ready for it, go to it, give it to themselves, and to others. Used as a weapon by the Islamist leaders against the alleged enemies of Islam, infidel Muslims or unbelievers, death is trivialized. It becomes in their hands, a privilege or a reward for some handpicked ‘elected’, selected by Abu Zubair, the local leader of the group. Values ??are reversed and the nature is completely subverted. Death is the end desired by these disoriented young people who search for a meaning in their existence, a meaning they believe is achieved by deleting their lives.

In Mr. Alouache’s Le Repenti, death crosses the whole film. It is its reason itself. Rachid, an Islamist resistant, decides to surrender, following the proclamation of the law of the civil national concord promulgated in Algeria in 1999 – according to which legal actions against the terrorists, who returned their guns, are annulled. Once back home, the young man already remembers his wounds which are not ready to heal. He is accused by his parents’ neighbors of having participated in a massacre whose victims were the villagers.

The character remains ambiguous, even impenetrable, but he attempts to expiate his crimes, indicating to a pharmacist that he knows the place where his daughter was buried after having been kidnapped. The murders he either committed or participated in surround his life and make integration difficult. His entourage: the café owner who hired him does not hide his aversion; the Lieutenant too expects revelations from him.

Rachid lives under pressure, he is completely disoriented. His attempt to redeem himself is cut short from the beginning. As soon as he gets into the car, the pharmacist and his wife humiliate him and put him to the test. His life course stops at the same moment at which he was willing to carry out the act which helped him integrate the community. He, the pharmacist and his wife are killed by his former brothers in arms. His past catches up with him. Rejected by the society he apparently wants to fit into and considered a traitor by the community of his former companions, Rachid cannot live in either of them.

In this impasse, death seems the only way out; it helps the society ‘get rid’ of a persona non grata and his former comrades of a pariah. For Rachid, it is perhaps the tribute, the only one to pay for expiating his mistake and to avoid carrying a heavy burden.

These three films have also in common the fact that death remains somewhat arbitrary, why do only three people survived the disaster in the sea in La pirogue? Why should both parents, the pharmacist and his wife, and Rachid all suffer death in Le repenti? And for what reasons, in Les chevaux de dieu, does Hamid, who is the first to join the Islamist camp, hesitate, gives up blowing himself and tries to convince his brother to do the same? The fatal is not always explainable or is at least difficult to explain. This is an event which is beyond the influence of the human; it surpasses him, fascinates him sometimes, or frightens him.

This dramatic bias appears to reveal in these filmmakers a kind of existential despair, an inability to find answers and anxiety about a life which has lost all its meaning for African dreamers, disoriented young people, and bereaved parents, or a young man who is accustomed to give it.

For Touré, Ayouch and Merzak, death is at the same time a question in the sense that it is a leap into the unknown and probably an answer or at least an attempt, since the hereafter is seen as a rebirth, the fulfillment of a real life, a life we think absolute.

Edited by Steven Yates