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Theatre and Film

The Algerian film industry is well developed and sometimes reaches viewers abroad. This results, in part, from the state’s efforts to promote the image of independent Algeria. Following the war of independence, filmmakers were given free rein for movies about the fight against French colonialism. The pre-eminent example of this genre is The Battle of Algiers (1966), an epic account of the struggle between urban guerrillas of the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale, FLN) and the French army. The Italian-Algerian co-production gives a realistic account of the harsh realities of the war and the characters of its protagonists. It paints a bleak picture of the French ‘civilizng mission’ imposed by executions and torture, but it also depicts conflict within the FLN and bomb attacks on civilian targets. In the end, the Algerian people appear as the true heroes.

More recent films treat themes of contemporary society. Omar Gatlao, by Merzak Allouache, is about the empty lives of young men hanging around in the cities, unemployed and frustrated by the impossibility of marriage. Allouache also treated the rise of Islamism (Bab al-Oued City) and the relationship between Algerians and their relatives who migrated to France (Salut cousin!). His most recent production, Le repenti (2012) is about the aftermath and unfinished history of the civil war of the 1990s: a member of an Islamist group is pardoned and reintegrated into society, but he and the other protagonists ultimately prove unable to escape the consequences of their past deeds.

Of a lighter tone is Mascarades (2008) by Lyes Salem, about intrigues in a small village centring on the difficulties of tradition, family life, and relations between the sexes.

Theatre emerged in colonial times and sometimes served as a platform for indirect criticism of French rule. After 1962, the Ministry of Culture sponsored the creation of theatre groups and a national theatre in Algiers, as part of the government’s cultural policies of ‘rediscovering’ Algerian national traditions. In order to escape the state’s watchful eye and to find room for more critical views of past and present Algerian society, many actors and playwrights preferred to produce their own plays. The liberalization of 1989 provided them the opportunity to develop their ideas and lay the foundations of independent drama. Their hopes were short-lived: in the ‘black decade’ of the 1990s, critical voices were silenced, sometimes by murder. The famous playwright Abdelkader Alloula was one of the victims of targeted killings by Islamist armed groups.

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