Friday, October 28, 2016

At FIAF's CinéSalon in November -- the cinema of a French original: Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche

Having seen but three of the five films by the Algerian-born French filmmaker Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, TrustMovies can't claim to be much of an expert. Also, somewhere between ten and fifteen years separates my first encounter with his work from this most recent one, with the viewing of another film occurring five years back. Yet I have found each of these movies oddly memorable in the manner in which they combine the personal and political, while providing varied viewpoints of both for us to ponder.

Poetic & Political: The Cinema of Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche is the name of the new series from the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF)'s popular CinéSalon that begins this coming Tuesday, Nov. 1. M. Ameur-Zaïmeche, shown below, is an actor/writer/director who turns 50 this year, so this retrospective is, if we're lucky, a kind of mid-way point in his career. He hasn't made a lot of films, but what he has (based on the three I've seen so far) are well worth viewing.

The series begins this coming Tuesday, November 1, with this filmmaker's mid-point movie, DERNIER MAQUIS (also known by its original title as Adhen). From 2008 and running 93 minutes, it's a tale of the workplace, immigrants, Capitalism, culture and religion told in a manner that gives weight to each of its major characters and their viewpoints, while maintaining Ameur-Zaïmeche's own beliefs (which I would call French Progressive).

The writer/director (at left) -- who also plays one of the leading roles as the worker's boss, Mao (below) -- sees things as they are, while understanding how different and better they might be. He also understands how religion can help bring people together, divide them, even stupify them, while acting as a tool for control.

Here, most unusually but greedily and smartly, religion is used by the boss and his Imam to keep those immigrant workers in line. (The guy has very cleverly provided those workers with their own "mosque.") Even so, Ameur-Zaïmeche endows his anti-hero with just enough caring and concern so that we can't entirely discount him, for even he is troubled by his own actions.

The filmmaking looks rudimentary but this works well within the confines of the tiny budget and the sense of place and characters Ameur-Zaïmeche has created. Islam is pictured here as a fundamentalist religion, yes, but one that is practiced quite differently from character to character. Rather like Christianity and Judaism and much else, I would guess. In any case, tradition vs democracy is one of the themes at the center of the film.

Early on in the film, there is a lot of talk about cocks and circumcision until, suddenly, a joke turns into an act of self-mutilation. This poor character (above), may be naive and rather kind, but he is certainly not cut out for Imam material -- as the current and under-the-thumb-of-the-boss religious leader intends him to be.

Oddly, though events in the movie -- including the discovery and preservation of an animal, the Coypu, I think I have never seen until now --  eventually come to a head, even leading to violence, the film avoids melodrama due to its genuineness and the sense of reality it captures. At times the craziness of the actions here makes them seem that much more bizarrely real. The film will screen at FIAF this Tuesday, November 1 at 4pm and 7:30 pm.


Just how much Ameur-Zaïmeche has grown as a filmmaker is apparent from viewing Smugglers' Songs, made in 2011 , which I covered during the 2012 Rendez-vous with French Cinema. Below is the review I posted at that time:

Ever wonder how the French Revolution came about? No, not around the court of Louis XVI, which is where, movie-wise, we usually get wind of it. In these days of the growing (then subsiding) Arab spring in the east, and the western world's Occupy movement, filmmakers are starting to take notice. I suspect Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche (Wesh wesh, qu'est-ce qui se passe?) has been thinking about all this for some time, for his new film SMUGGLERS' SONGS (Les chants de Mandrin) is rife with the spirit of a growing feeling of and for some kind of new democracy... only back in France in the 1700s. Jumping off from the death/martyrdom of French folk hero Louis Mandrin, Ameur-Zaïmeche, as both writer and director, brings such a fine feeling of now-as-then to the goings-on that I believe audiences lucky enough to see his 97-minute movie will come away charged anew with the sense and spirit of how democracy might build, once citizens of all classes (particularly the underclass) learn to understand and reason around the concept of justice.

One member of the overclass, a Marquis played very nicely indeed by actor/filmmaker Jacques Nolot (above), wrestles with this notion and what it might mean to his servants, his feet and his general well-being, as he chats with a smart peddler, equally well-played by Christian Melia-Darmezin. The filmmaker himself (below) takes on a major role here, as Bélissard, the leader of the small band of the Mandrins, now that Louis is dead. In crisply photographed images, many of them beautifully composed (by Irina Lubtchansky), we move with this fearless band of warriors as they train a new recruit (a deserter saved from military execution), have the songs of and about Mandrin published (we see the fascinating steps to printing and publishing centuries before the time of self-publishing and computers), and witness an exciting jail-break, along with some other tense situations.

Small in scale but done with what seems to me to be surprising accuracy, Smugglers' Songs might be the earliest example of Occupy France, as it show us how the fire of revolution was lit, back when. This little gem, perhaps the "sleeper" of that year's Rendez-vous, so far as I know never received a theatrical release on these shores, so it is wonderful that FIAF is bringing it to us now. Running 97 minutes, it will screen at FIAF on Tuesday, December 6 at 4 & 7:30pm.

I'll hope to be able to watch a final film in this series, Story of Judas (above), from 2015, which will screen at FIAF on Tuesday, December 13 at 4pm and 7:30. If and when I do, I'll post that review either here or in a post all its own. Meanwhile, you can view the entire program of  Poetic & Political: The Cinema of Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche , curated by Delphine Selles- Alvarez, by clicking here. Enjoy! 

About FIAF: The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) is New York’s premiere French cultural and language center. FIAF's mission is to create and offer New Yorkers innovative and unique programs in education and the arts that explore the evolving diversity and richness of French cultures. FIAF seeks to generate new ideas and promote cross cultural dialogue through partnerships and new platforms of expression.

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