COLONIALSM: A painful voyage back to the silenced Algerian War of Independence

Dieter Wieczorek
Dieter Wieczorek
Wieczorek is a film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: April 24, 2019

In Mansourah You Separated Us

Dorothée-Myriam Kellou

Mariem HamidatEugénie Michel-VilletteSarah Stockmann

Denmark, Algeria, France

To deny parts of one’s own history is a well-known act in creating a national identity. The degree of this negation is a truthful indicator of the democratic health and capacities for cultural tolerance in societies. In France, the Algerian War of Independence remains, even today, one of the black holes of its historical recognition. In light of this, each contribution bringing up this theme already has intrinsic value, and a festival like Nyon’s Vision du Réel, which each year strengthens its position in the international documentary landscape, can only be congratulated for screening films dealing with such topics.

In Mansourah you separated us_algeria
In Mansourah you separated us, a film by Dorothée-Myriam Kellou

The silence

The young filmmaker Dorothée-Myriam Kellou spent her life in Nancy with a father who never spoke about his past. He is an example of those who amplify the official silence, even those personally confronted with horrific facts. One day, however, he gave his daughter a look at some documents from his childhood. Asking about the reasons for the silence, even from first-hand witnesses, is one of the leading directions of In Mansourah you separated us. The first answer given is simple insistent fear. The father confessed to his daughter that the statue raised to Sergeant Blandan, one of the French war heroes in Algeria, frightens him every day on his early-morning walk to his workplace.

The filmmaker convinced her father to take a voyage back in time to see the ruins of his own house and the remaining inhabitants of Mansourah, a village in the region of Kabylia, as well as other nearby villages, places he had not returned to after the war. In those days Mansourah had become a forced resettlement camp, set up by the French army as a strategic measure to fight against the National Liberation Front (FLN). Kellou captures private moments when, for example, her father places a photograph of his mother in the now-abandoned room where he was born. He remembers the day the French army sent flares over the civil population, searching for members of FLN. He nearly got killed that day.

He nearly got killed that day.

During the war, 3,740 resettlement camps were built, 2,350,000 people were resettled in camps, and 1,175,000 were forced to leave their place of residence. All in all, more than 3.5 million people were displaced in Algeria, which represented 50% of the rural population at the time.

In only a few hours, the French army expelled people without warning from their lifelong homes with trucks; the FLN then organised the resettlements following traditional rules and family connections. Overcrowded houses with seven families were only one of the resulting problems. People who took the risk of continuing to cultivate land in forbidden zones were massacred. Today still, the consequences of these replacements and resettlements are present and in effect. Even those who returned to their original homes after the war are not the same; they are marked by trauma, caused not only by the army but also by their own atrocities. By coming back, the image of the village has become tarnished and the degree of trust between members of its society remains diminished to a minimum.

In Mansourah you separated us_algeria_3
In Mansourah you separated us, a film by Dorothée-Myriam Kellou

«Death had become nothing for me», articulates one of the former resistance fighters. Today he regrets having killed a young man simply because he showed up with a girl publicly in the village, just to mention one example. Guilty feelings manifest themselves even today in nightmares, producing images of unfinished or carried-out killings. They also appear in Marek’s mind, as the father finally avows to his daughter.

Lost culture

A destroyed culture is the decisive result of the French resettlement strategy. «A culture that doesn’t defend itself is a lost culture», resumes an Algerian inhabitant. Here we find the source of the powerful silence and the (willing) ignorance, not only in France but also in Algeria itself. Even a just cause cannot be defended if there are no free spirits willing to defend it. On the other hand, there are many unjustified practices that remain dominant through a culture that reinforces them.

«Death had become nothing for me»

Kellou uses her camera in a simple way, not using «effects» or high-tech applications. She evidently trusts in the importance of the offered facts and in the sincerity of those portrayed. Evidently, her film was created with modest means. Some night shots are blurred; a voiceover is used on a silent woman… Her mostly indoor filming, or shots of a single person, are sometimes interrupted by archive material or travels over landscapes, which capture mostly harsh and infertile surroundings where survival itself already seems to be a daily problem. These people are living in a no-movement-no-future society, disabled and sometimes melancholic, psychically tortured in any case. Often the voices of her protagonists break off in the middle of a sentence asking for forgiveness.

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