The Truth about Arab-African Cinema

in 23rd Carthage Film Festival

by Janet Baris

After the Arabian Spring, political issues have started to be emphasized more in Arabic cinema. Young filmmakers want to show their anger and enthusiasm. During the festival we saw a lot of examples to help us understand the political issues. These films were a very trustworthy way of understanding exactly what’s going on there. Topics were mostly concerned with political issues too as they focused on human issues.

Out of the 19 movies in the feature movie competition, we realized that most of them portrayed the difficulties of living in the Middle East or Africa. In most of them, it was easy to understand a director’s ideological priorities. The characters had to escape from civil war or try to find a ship for migration. After seeing all of these films the overall picture would seem as a dark one; but it’s important to remember that they took their powers of expression from the truth.

It‘s a very healthy and creative way to use cinema to express the anger. At the end of the festival it could be said that the Egyptian and Lebanese cinema had a more professional and greater presence than the others. On the other hand, the Senegal, Mozambique and Mali films were very naive. However, though they were small they had a truly cinematographic talent.

Most of the films’ central characters want to take charge of the situation in which they belong. It could be civil war, poorness or their fate. They want a new future for themselves. Angola, Death for Sale and Today-Day were very strong examples of these feelings.

In All is Good (Por Aqui Tudo Bem), Alda and her sister Maria, respectively 16 and 17 years-of-age, arrive in Lisbon to escape from the civil war in Angola in the 1980’s. Being women, they experience very harsh conditions. Running away, finding a place to stay and falling in love… All these issues are too much for them but they have to survive.

In Death for Sale (Mort à vendre) three friends who want to get away from their state of poverty decide to rob the town’s biggest jewelry store. Malik is desperately in love with Dounia, but Dounia is a whore. Malik’s friend Allal can’t understand Malik’s love for Dounia and always complains about that. This is a well-known story but it has a very different cinematographic approach and with amazing contrasts. It’s always dark and melancholic, but the most impressive thing about the film is the final cut; the camera turns upside down and everything goes upside down with the camera. In so doing it expresses exactly how Malik feels at the end of film.

Today (Aujourd’hui) details the last day of Satche’s life. The strange thing is, he is healthy and has apparently no reason to die. In the last day of his life he walks around his hometown, sees his ex-girlfriend, visits his parent’s house, the friends of his youth, his wife and children. In every single moment of these scenes, he knows that he will die at the end of that day. Satche isn’t escaping from something or someone; he has his reality which is death. The interesting thing is the idea of death without reason and director Alain Gomis has very different ways in which to tell it.

All these films contain love, action, but particularly the reality of pain. All of these Arabian-African directors want to show the truth and how to escape from it, but truth is there and it seems it’s hard to escape from it.

Edited by Steven Yates