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February 24 - 26, 2006 -- THE REBA STEWART AND GENEVIEVE MCMILLAN AWARD FOR DISTINGUISHED FILMMAKING

Merzak Allouache: Cinema from the Other World

The Harvard Film Archive is honored to welcome Merzak Allouache, this year's recipient of the eighth Genevieve McMillan and Reba Stewart Fellowship for Distinguished Filmmaking. Born in Algiers, Merzak Allouache grew up during the Algerian struggle for independence. He studied filmmaking at Paris's celebrated IDHEC, and quickly moved on to directing feature films, documentaries, and television programs. Omar Gatlato (1976), his first feature film, set in the neighborhood of Bab el-Oued in Algiers, was such a success that it changed the course of Algerian cinema. The popularity of Omar Gatlato with Algerian audiences demonstrated to the Algerian film industry that its public had an appetite for complex films that dealt with the realities of Algerian contemporary society, opening the door to other films of the same ilk. In 1994 Merzak returned to this same neighborhood to film Bab el-Oued City. The film captured the beginnings of the civil war that was then spreading across Algeria. Bab el-Oued City garnered the International Critics' Prize at Cannes in 1994, as well as the grand prize at the Arab Film Festival in Paris. During a career that has spanned thirty years, Merzak Allouache's films continue to examine the complex history that ties France to its former North African colonies, giving us characters full of intelligence and dignity, caught between their French and Algerian identities. Merzak's other films include Adventures of a Hero/Aventures d'un heros (1978), The Man Who Watched Windows/L'Homme qui regardait les fenêtres (1982), and A Love in Paris/Un amour à Paris (1988). In 1989 he made Following October/L'après-octobre, a documentary about the riots that took place in the suburbs of Paris in 1988.

This program is co-presented by the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies and the Film Study Center at Harvard. Special thanks are offered to this year's selection committee members Vincent Brown, David Rodowick, Susan Suleiman, and Lucien Taylor.


February 24 (Friday) 7 pm - Director Merzak Allouache in Person
February 25 (Saturday) 9 pm

Bab el Oued City

Directed by Merzak Allouache
Algeria/France/Germany/Switzerland, 1994, color, 93 min.
With Nadia Kaci, Mohamed Ourdache, Hassan Abidou
Arabic with English Subtitles

In 1993 as Merzak was filming Bab el-Oued City in Algiers, the terror of the civil war was already gripping Algeria. While he was directing the film, his friend, the novelist and journalist Tahar Djaout, was murdered. Allouache was forced to make the remainder of the film on the run, and could not return to Islamist sections of Algiers such as the Casbah for second takes. Not surprisingly, he managed to transfer the sense of violence and paranoia that surrounded the making of the film to the characters of Rachid and Said. The young fundamentalists depicted in the film reveal themselves to be rife with hypocrisy and a mad fascination with power. When the Algerian government refused to hold elections, the low-level violence depicted in the film exploded into terror. Bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations, became the norm, leading to the loss of over 50,000 lives during the course of the civil war.

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February 24 (Friday) 9 pm - Director Merzak Allouache in Person

Salut Cousin

Directed by Merzak Allouache
France/ Algeria/ Belgium/ Luxembourg, 1996, color, 98 min.
With Gad Elmaleh, Messaoud Hattau, Magaly Berdy
Arabic and French with English subtitles

In this moving narrative Merzak delves into the daily realties of the "beur", the children of the Algerian immigrants who came to work in France's factories during the economic boom of the fifties and sixties. We meet Mok, caught between the reality of the civil war that awaits him in Algiers and his daily struggle for sanity in the Parisian projects. While Alilo, his Algerian cousin, falls in love with a West African neighbor in the adjacent housing project, Mok oscillates between his dual desires of becoming either French, or a successful American style rapper. Merzak's humorous yet unflinching portrayal of this Parisian immigrant community never stumbles into cliché or trite condemnations of French racism, preferring to remain focused on the lives of its characters. The final frame of Mok's goldfish, hovering in its glass bowl, somehow becomes a comment on a life spent in the Parisian projects.

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February 25 (Saturday) 7pm - Director Merzak Allouache in Person

The Other World (L'Autre Monde)

Directed by Merzak Allouache
Algeria/France, 2001, color, 95 min
With Marie Brahimi, Karim Bouaiche, Nazim Boudjenah
French and Arabic with English subtitles

Inspired by the realities of Algeria's civil war, The Other World takes viewers on a journey into the madness of the country's recent political and religious conflict. Yasmine and Rachid, two young Parisians who are the children of Algerian immigrants, live a quiet life in France. When Rachid disappears, Yasmine learns that he is in Algeria, and decides to follow him. Taking a ferry across the Mediterranean, she enters a country filled with violence, where the veterans of the war in Afghanistan are waging a campaign of terror against the Algerian government. As in his earlier films, Allouache uses an understated style of direction, relying on small details and the humanity of his characters to create tension and capture the desolation that the civil war inflicted on the Algerian people.

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February 25 (Saturday) 9 pm - Director Merzak Allouache in Person

Bab el Oued City

Directed by Merzak Allouache
Algeria/France/Germany/Switzerland, 1994, color, 93 min.
With Nadia Kaci, Mohamed Ourdache, Hassan Abidou
Arabic with English Subtitles

See program notes for February 24 screening.

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February 26 (Sunday) 7pm - Director Merzak Allouache in Person

Omar Gatlato

Algeria, 1976, color, 90 min.
With Boualem Benani, Aziz Degga, Farida Guenaneche
Arabic with English subtitles

With his first film, Merzak Allouache accurately captured the daily realities of young Algerians living in the capitol city of Algiers fourteen years after the country had gained its independence from France. Omar Gatlato and his friends struggle with boredom, machismo and the impossibility of developing meaningful relationships with the women around them. Allouache's effective use of real settings and the dialect of the Algerian street made this film enormously popular with the Algerian movie-going public. The success of Omar Gatlato opened the door to a new group of films that were able to portray the daily realities of Algerian society. Two years after the success of Omar Gatlato, Allouache was able to direct the equally uncompromising Adventures of a Hero (1978), taking Algerian cinema further towards a new realism.

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February 26 (Sunday) 9 pm - Director Merzak Allouache in Person

Bab el Oued

Algeria/France, 2005, color, 99 min.
With Samy Naceri, Faudel, Julie Gaynet
Arabic and French with English subtitles

Kamel and his brother Bouzid live in the Bab el Oued quarter of Algiers. Kamel is shy, whereas Bouzid, the more outgoing of the two, passes his time in a cyber-café chatting with women on line from all over the world. During these conversations Bouzid always invites his cyber women to visit him in Algiers. To his surprise Laurence, a young woman from France, accepts his invitation and informs him that she is enroute to Algiers. How can Bouzid manage to accommodate Laurence in his parent's small apartment in Bab el Oued? Kamel has the answer.

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