The symbol of a motherland with an intricate and painful history, that wasn’t always fair to its children, the main character of the Algerian feature film Yema, directed by Djamila Sahraoui, is the key to the whole movie.
Yema is a grieving mother whose son, a Policeman, was assassinated by Islamists. She refuses to grant forgiveness to her other son, a Mujahid, whom she accuses for being a member of the terrorist group that killed his brother. Like a millennium tree, Yema (‘mother’ in Algerian dialect) is hanging on to her roots, her land. She farms a piece of land in the mountain, trapped between two inimical camps. Her seed is gone with the wind, but she gives herself a new reason to live.
Djamila Sahraoui is astonishing, even disturbing, in the role of the main character of Yema. Before her, plays an exclusively male cast. In directing, as well as in the film’s story, she is the decision maker in regards to where they have the right to go and when they can do it. She is marking her territory in that she wants to provide protection against the men’s madness. At the same time, it is not a neutral territory. Any external element can be integrated only if it’s a carrier of hope and life, otherwise it must follow a redemption path. This is a renewal cycle.
In order to demarcate her territory, Djamila Sahraoui makes up the frames of the film like a plan, with straight lines, leans and basic geometric shapes. She alternates between shadow and light in order to intensify the symbolic meaning of the objects displayed on the screen: a house, a well, a fertile land, etc. She paints the image with the colors of the four elements. This game of shades and colors emphasizes the polarity between life and death, love and hatred. As a director, Sahraoui is neither in restraint nor in excess. Both moments of silence and spoken words have their own weight, add information or trigger emotions. The slowness and lengthiness of some sequences, particularly those where she is working the land with stickling and ferity, indicates that there is a process taking place that requires patience and time, a lot of time, even sacrifice.
The tomato yards she farms tirelessly is her new battle field, after she lost her progeny. She decides to sow hope for a new life and a brighter future, represented by her baby grandson who she raises by herself. Only that kind of effort can be fruitful. But, when the seeds land in the wrong hands, the wind blows. Mother Nature reacts wrathfully. It is natural selection. Only Yema and the baby will survive this process. Yema-Mother Nature-Algeria makes the sacrifice of a whole generation for the sake of her new inheritors. A generation for whom it’s too late: ”nothing can be done for them”, she says in the movie. At the same time, she admits her responsibility in this complex situation when, in a scene of confrontation- a climax scene in the film- her Mujahid son tells her that she always preferred her other son, the Policeman. Not everything is lost for this Yema Courage. She understands that what goes around comes around, that nothing is easy. After the grief comes birth and after the pain comes happiness.
What matters is to have the strength to carry on and let life triumph.
Edited by Steven Yates
© FIPRESCI 2012