A film that teaches Middle Easterners many lessons
Nadir Mokneche, an Algerian director, successfully shows the disrupted familial fabric of his society by making a multi-hero film called “Viva Laldjerie, meaning “Hooray Algeria” in English. It provides deep insights into Algerian culture through four families and several individual characters representing society as a whole. Economy is one of the topics of the movie that I was struck by as the film explains that bad economy is the source of all the miseries of Pachia, Fifi and the apartment owner experience i.e. bad economy has disrupted the social and familial fabric of the Algerian society.
Religion is one of the aspects reflected in the film and is related to the materials I’ve so far been reading on the film. In several occasions throughout the film, I hear a Mullah reciting verses from holy Quran, or Imams calling for prayer. Those aspects suggest deep contradiction between a religious society, in this context Algerian, and the deeds each member of the society is doing and involved in: hypocrisy, adultery, prosti- tute, cheating, stealing and so on.
The overview scenes show the undeveloped side of the country. Scenes of young men, hampered by joblessness, playing traditional games, soccer and hanging around. Essentially, the wasting of energy of youths for no real benefit. The official, who was a regular customer of Fifi and then ran after her for his gun that was stolen by Goucem, shows corruption in government.
The shutdown of the Kopacababa, place where Pachia worked in as a dancer before, shows how society, business and entertainment have become a sacrifice to terrorism. Uneducated Goucem, Fifi, Yacin (a gay and son of Anees who is married and has promised to marry Goucem) shows the lack of educational infrastructure of the country and opportunities of study for youth. These insights have all been handled very well by Mokneche.
Algeria, a gateway between Africa and Europe, has been battered by violence over the past halfcentury. More than a mil- lion Algerians were killed in the fight for independence from France in 1962, and the country has recently emerged from a brutal internal conflict that followed scrapped elections in 1992. The Sahara desert covers more than four-fifths of the land. Oil and gas reserves were discovered there in the 1950s, but most Algerians live along the northern coast. The country supplies large amounts of natural gas to Europe and energy exports are the backbone of the economy.
Surprisingly, I was most struck by two images or scenes in the film. First is the scene when all the doctors ran after an 8 year old boy to catch and circumcise him. This 5 second scene is very strong as it shows one deep aspect of Algerian culture, widely practised in the entire Middle East, which is circumcision. That reminded my similar case when I was 9. Secondly, a three second shot of a sign of “LG” brand which means Life is Good. That was marvellously used by the director; a paradox which tells everything else is good but Life for the Al- gerians.
I said earlier that the film is a multi-hero one. That means each main character was a hero in the film telling a specific or even more than one aspect of Algerian life. For instance, Yaseen, spelled Yacin in the film’s English subtitle, is interested in men. That tells us that he is gay. Goucem knows about that. He begs her not to tell his father about it. This shows another deep cultural, religious and moral blasphemy in the Algerian society i.e. that gayhood is forbidden to a high extent.
Anees, father of some kids including Yaseen, is very cleverly used by the director as his character shows the hypocrisy, dominance, wickedness of rich men, adultery, cheating, and ugliness of Algerian men in society. He is sleeping with many at the same time while he’s married and has been dragging Goucem on her abdomen by promising to marry her.
Goucem’s family seems to have been disrupted and gone astray after her father died. It’s very clear when Pachia, Goucem’s mother and ex-dancer, deeply weeps after dancing for a while in the bar. Woman in the Middle Eastern societies face a difficult life after they lose their husbands.
In the 1990s, Algerian politics was dominated by the struggle involving the military and Islamist militants. In 1992, a general election won by an Islamist party was annulled, heralding a bloody civil war in which more than 150,000 people died. An amnesty in 1999 led many rebels to lay down their arms.
Although political violence in Algeria has declined since the 1990s, the country has been shaken by a campaign of bombings carried out by a group calling itself al-Qaeda in the Land of Islamic Maghreb.
Women in those societies have only one card in life; a very precious card that is marriage. If that card turns good i.e. they marry a good man, then her life would be like a paradise.
However, if fate would play the card bad then her whole life would be in misery and agony. Consider how mad Goucem is for Anees. She finds her dream and life in marrying him, a bad choice though. On the other side, men have many cards and that’s shown in the character of Anees who is playing with several women at a time.
One can easily tell how Goucem has gone astray and become twisted. She had two abortions and lost her virginity; both are a source of despise, rebuke and belittling of a woman in those societies. She has one friend, Fifi, who is a whore, a good-hearted one though. Goucem destroyed Fif’s life, as well, just by stealing the gun of the official. In another way, the accident (death of Fifi) was a kind of reform for Goucem because after that she gave up her dream in Anees, a right decision, and went back to Samir, a young guy who may have a good future with Goucem.
To me, the film is not only a reflection of Algerian society but perhaps pretty much that of the entire Middle East and North Africa.
Pachia is a dancer, but everyone in the society thinks she is a prostitute. This is another bad impression of men on women in those societies. It’s clearer when Trizizi, daughter of apartment owner, tells Pachia that her teacher had told her bad things about her. This very short sentence means a lot because it tells even educated people does not differentiate between whores and dancers.
The end is also done very cleverly by the director. It gives solutions. Goucem should look for a young man to marry, not a guy like Anees. Pachia can sing and work to scrape a living. However, the movie failed to come up with any solution for gayhood, hypocrisy, cheating, and bad economy. All in all, the film shows only the problems but it does not provide the solutions. The end is very open for viewers to tell what would happen to Goucem and Samir. Would Pachia continue singing in the new bar without the fear of terrorism?