abou leila

ABOU LEILA

Are we all equal in the face of violence? This is the question, more complex than it seems, posed by this first feature film by Amin Sidi-Boumedène, featuring two characters launched on an initiation journey, at the edge of Algeria, at the origins of evil.

1994. Two men leave Algiers in a Lada Niva to sink into the desert in search of a dangerous terrorist named Abu Leila. We don’t know who these two men are, or which side of the law they are on. One of them is sick, they stop to spend the night in a hotel and try to be discreet. Everything would suggest that they are on the run, or at least that they have something to blame themselves for.

Cleverly, Lyes Salem’s play will alter the viewer’s distrustful gaze of his character, Lotfi – a nurse with troubled intentions. His partner has no first name, and will not discover it over the course of the film – he is referred to as S. by the director. Anonymous and staggering, S. delegated the charge of his person to Lotfi. As if he were to carry the body and soul of his friend, to vouch for his actions. More than an accompanist, he is the guarantor of this unnamed man whose vital forces will run out along the way. We will gradually understand the seniority and value of the bond that unites them, in their friendship as in the defence of their country.

The staging also works to recalibrate our eye, and sometimes tends to thwart our perception of the horizontal and the vertical. Thus, Sidi-Boumedène sometimes creates fixed planes that reverse the frame and the viewer’s gaze, requesting the top and bottom, the gravity of the bodies, standing or elongated. As if to better introduce the idea of wobbling, from the real world to S’s visions.

Because he’s got a restless sleep. Between nightmare, hallucination and sleepwalking, we do not know exactly what evil gnaws this being in struggle. Crackling tells us that we are transported into other limbo, and the reality of the sets mingles with the memories and fantasies of S. Subtly distorted, the world of nightmare is very close to reality. The sounds are amplified, more aggressive, and what is played is overflowing with the image a violence poorly assimilated by S. Undoubtedly, the trauma is at work, and grinds the body and brain of the character with medication.

Among other violence experienced, we guess the one orchestrated by terrorism, embodied by Abu Leila, the target of his vengeful quest. S. probably harbours the hope of finding Abu Leila to free himself from an evil of which the terrorist is the culprit, and which haunts him. This obsessive idea will increase the frequency and violence of his visions, with all the burden of symbolism contained in the imagery of his memories.

Snake, goat, cheetah. The animal often merges with man in Amin Sidi-Boumedène’s film, reminding us that violence is a matter of this animality that is always present in human beings, often indomitable, sometimes traumatic. To varying degrees and depending on the subject, it insinuates itself and gains ground in certain contexts in crisis, so much so that stemming its morbid character is not always possible. The boundaries between victim and culprit become increasingly tenuous, and then spring the evidence that in all the plurality of individuals, it is urgent, if not essential, to recognize the fragilities that define the foundation of humanity.