La Chose Inachevée: The Role of Women in Contemporary Algerian Society and Cinema

By Angelica Maria DeAngelis
Submitted to Session P4996 (The Surreal and the Real between Orientalism and Post-Orientalism, 2017 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
“There comes a time when you need to take action” says Amina to Fouzi towards the end of Merzak Allouache’s 2012 Normal! –a film about an unfinished film, but also about Algeria and the role of creation in light of (or in the shadows of) the Arab Spring playing out in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. In this talk, however, I would like to consider the film through a gendered lens, in which the “unfinished business” (la chose inachevée) is not only the film itself, but the realization of the role of women in contemporary Algerian society and cinema.

In this film, like in another of Allouache’s recent films Harragas (2009), female characters must insert themselves into the public narrative of Algeria, rather than being welcomed with open arms by their male compatriots and lovers. But that is just what they do; from the start of Normal! we see Amina prepare a banner (“Free and democratic Algeria”) for the protest she plans on attending, and in Harragas we see Imène preparing food for the dangerous sea crossing to Spain she plans on making in the place of her brother who has committed suicide. That is not the case in Yamina Bachir’s 2002 Rachida (the first feature length Algerian film by a female filmmaker). While Rachida is the protagonist of the film, at times she does not seem to be the protagonist of her own life, preferring instead to remain outside of the political and violent struggles that rage around her, and to try to live a normal life, even when her refusal to participate (and plant a bomb) results in her getting shot.

Is this call to “take action” a luxury of the male filmmaker but not available to the female filmmaker? Or are these all forms of female empowerment (traditional female schoolteacher, sister who replaces dead brother, protester who occupies her own space) – each which comes with its own price? This paper will explore the ways in which the potentials and the limitations of female participation in contemporary Algerian society is imagined by male and female filmmakers in recent Algerian cinema, as well as cultural and economic challenges faced by these filmmakers.