The debut feature film Bloody Beans (2013) of Narimane Mari, shot on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Algerian independence, is based on a loose, improvisational script about a group of children who, fed up with their monotonous diet of beans, decide to steal food from the French military barracks and end up capturing a young French soldier as well. This allegory of the Algerian War of Independence is enacted on the beach and within the populous neighborhoods of today’s Algiers, where almost half the population is under twenty-five years of age and largely unemployed. In a powerful mix of past (the struggle against French occupation) and present (the struggle of young people to survive), the film addresses the emotional realities of colonialism and contemporary forms of disenfranchisement.
For this is the leitmotif of the French director, born in 1969 in Algiers and now living between there and Marseille. Indeed, Mari has developed a unique cinematic language to engage with the complexities and the legacy of colonialism, specifically the histories of early colonial “scientific expeditions” and “taming campaigns” led by the French. Quite freely she exploits the capacity of youth and childhood to turn the adult world upside down, imaginatively reinventing and transcending the ossified givens of the latter. Such as in her latest film, Le fort des fous (2017), of a young community of nomads and wanderers who form an imagined utopian society in response to imperialist rule. She shows us that formative experiences speak closely to emotional realities and, in the process, reveal how social, historical, and political forces form subjectivities.
If in Bloody Beans a band of children “playing war” collectively reenacts colonial history as told at home and taught in schools, this is because it is a performative device that not only illuminates the effects of colonialism in the present but cinematically allows for a compelling intertwinement of fabulation and documentary. The use of reenactment and play in this instance bypasses the pitfalls of many other artistic approaches to colonial history and its material records, instead projecting into a hallucinatory realm these histories as tangible, social, and subjective realities in the present.