The Cannes Film Festival just wrapped up. As it was in 2010, this year was a good one for African cinema at the Festival, the international event that celebrates global cinema.
In competition were three North African films: Baad El Mawkeaa ('After the Battle') by Yousry Nasrallah (Egypt), The Horses of God by Nabil Ayouch (Morocco) and El Taaieb ('The Repentant') by Merzak Allouache (Algeria).
During last year's 64th edition of the festival, held a few months after the uprising in Egypt and in Tunisia, the festival screened two North African films: No More Fear, a documentary by Tunisian filmmaker Mourad Ben Cheikh, and 18 days, a crowd-sourced movie put together by a group of ten Egyptian filmmakers who took part in the historical Tahrir Square’s demonstrations of January and February 2011.
The opening scenes of the three films that competed for awards is each a dramatic moment in the history of their societies. Yousry Nasrallah goes back to the February 2, 2011, when a group of horse and camel riders charged against demonstrators in Tahrir Square. On the other hand, Nabil Ayouch revisits May 16, 2003 when multiple terrorist explosions went off in the Moroccan city of Casablanca. Reflecting on terrorism, an issue that seems to have a serious impact internationally, Allouache recasts his story around the law of National Reconciliation, supposed to persuade Algerian jihadists to lay down arms as a condition for their amnesty.
To sustain interest in the movies, the three filmmakers spice up reality with a bit of fiction.
Interestingly, there is a thread that runs through the three movies that represented the region, which witnessed the ousting of three presidents from power, with one being killed. The wretched of the earth endure injustice, oppression and the spread of terrorism, but they are also forced to be violent with each other, the filmmakers seem to be suggesting.
In The Horses of God, two brothers who love each other end up as sworn enemies. They die together while fighting together for their life.
In a different film, the horsemen in Baad El Mawkeaa charges against the protesters and not against the oppressor. In their point of view, life is more important than the need for democracy.
In El-Taaieb, two men are struggling to get out of the cycle of violence, but they are forced to confront each other. At the end they die together. In this work, the filmmaker casts Mahmoud as a victim at different levels. As a poor man he didn’t get any chance in life; as a poor slum dweller like millions of other marginalised Egyptians, he is ignored by the state and enslaved by the local criminal network.
Ironically, when he is caught by the protesters and his image screened on TV, his peers start to see him as a carrier of bad luck. NGO volunteers, on the other hand, refuse to feed his horse. His kids also fall victim; they are teased at school and traumatised.
For the Algerian filmmaker Allouache, the law of pardon and "national harmony” was supposed to put an end to the violence. Unexpectedly, according to the director, it opened another kind of violence, which was more complicated and absurd.
In each of the three films, hope is absent. They instead depict the ugly side of life where most youths are trapped.
The origin of the evil is the same in the three films: In the poor Moroccan slum of Sidi Moument; the miserable neighbourhood of the Egyptian pyramids, and the forgotten villages in the Algerian mountains. The more marginalised and the more humiliated the young people are, the more violent and vulnerable they become.