Lakhdar-Hamina, Muhammad (1943–)
An Algerian film director, Muhammad Lakhdar-Hamina is best known for his 1975 film Chronicle of the Years of Embers. He is one of the most prominent figures in contemporary Arabic cinema.
Born on 23 February 1943 at M'Sila, Algeria, Lakhdar-Hamina began his studies in his native country. He first became interested in the world of cinema at the Lycée Carnot in Cannes, France. After beginning studies of agriculture and law at French universities, he deserted the French army in 1958 and joined the anti-French Algerian resistance in Tunisia, where he worked for the provisional Algerian government in exile. His film career began as he joined the Algerian Maquis (guerrillas). In 1959, the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) sent him to Prague, where he pursued his cinematography studies at the cinema school, Fakulta Akademie Müzických uméní (FAMU) the Czech academy for cinema and television. However, he quit his studies in order to work for the Barrandov Studios. In 1960 he joined the Service Cinema, created by the Algerian government in exile. In 1959, the Algerian ministry of information in exile commissioned Lakhdar-Hamina, together with Djamel Chanderli and Pierre Chaulet, to produce a movie about Algeria's predicament under French colonialism. The documentary film, titled Djazzaïrouna (Our Algeria), aimed at portraying the goals pursued by the Algerian nationalist guerrilla movement, the Maquis. In 1961, Lakhdar-Hamina collaborated with Chanderli in the movie Yasmina, which tells the story of a refugee girl who must flee her village following its destruction. Lakhdar-Hamina collaborated again with Chanderli in La Voix du People (1962; The people's voice) and Les Fusils de la Liberté (1961; The guns of freedom). Upon Algerian independence in 1962, he returned to his homeland where, together with his colleagues from Tunisian exile, he founded the Office des actualités algériennes, of which he was director from 1963 until its dissolution in 1974. From 1981 until 1984 he acted as director of the Office National pour le Commerce et l'Industrie Cinématographique.
INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS
From its inception, Algerian cinema was intertwined with the ideological and existential debates that surrounded the Algerian war of independence and the postcolonial nation-building stage. In this context, Lakhdar-Hamina's cinematographic career has significantly contributed to the development of a new filmic language characteristic of contemporary Maghrebi cinema in general and Algerian in particular, notably distinct from the filmic experiences of other Arab countries and most particularly of the Egyptian cinematic industry.
Name: Muhammad Lakhdar-Hamina
Birth: 1943, M'Sila, Algeria
Family: Two sons, Malik and Tariq
Education: Studied law and agriculture in France (incomplete); film studies at the Fakulta Akademie Múzických umêní (FAMU), Prague (incomplete)
- 1958: Deserts the French army and joins the Algerian resistance
- 1959: Begins cinematography studies at the FAMU, Prague
- 1961: Collaborates with film director Djamel Chanderli in his film Yasmina
- 1962: Returns to Algeria and founds Office des actualités algériennes
- 1965: Releases his first long film, Le Vent des Aurès
- 1975: Receives Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival for Chronicle of the Years of Embers
- 1981–1984: Becomes director of the Office National pour le Commerce et l'Industrie Cinématographique
- 1986: His film The Last Image is featured as the Official Selection of the Cannes Film Festival
- 2003: Chronicle of the Years of Embers is featured in the retrospectives section at the Cannes Film Festival
Following Algeria's independence, Algerian cinema focused on new artistic forms concerned with the search for national identity, but financial difficulties and the lack of an Algerian industry made this task all the more challenging. North American audiences have remained for the most part unaware of Algeria's cinematographic experience. Following the nationalization of Algeria's film industry in June 1969, the American Motion Pictures Export Association of America (MPEAA) called for a boycott of all Algerian productions. Since its inception, Algerian cinema developed a clearly anti-imperialistic stance. In this regard, Algerian cinematographers in general and Lakhdar-Hamina in particular have remained deeply committed to the ideological tenets of the nonaligned movement and Third Worldism. In December 1973, African, Latin American, and Asian filmmakers gathered in Algiers for the first meeting of the Third World Cinema Committee, which became an effort to build an independent Third World cinematographic movement.
Lakhdar-Hamina's first films explore issues of national identity and the search for the Self in the context of postcolonial emancipation. In 1963, he wrote the script and dialogue for the film Sour le signe de Neptune (Under Neptune's sign). In 1965 he released his first long movie, Le Vent des Aurès (Wind of the Aurès). The movie portrayed the story of an Algerian woman in search of her imprisoned sons during the Algerian war of independence. Le Vent des Aurès received the Best First Work Award at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Golden Palm. It was also nominated for the Grand Prix at the 1967 Moscow International Film Festival. It may be considered in its own right the foundational stone of contemporary Algeria cinema. In Le Vent des Aurés, Lakhdar-Hamina portrays with painstaking detail the disintegration of a peasant society marred by the structural violence of colonial occupation. The movie is clearly influenced by Soviet cinema and aesthetics, particularly that of Soviet Ukrainian director Alexandre Dovjenko. The director adeptly translated this influence to an Algerian scenario. Le Vent des Aurès consecrated Algerian cinema in the international scene. Lakhdar-Hamina's following movie, Hassan Terro, explored in a comical manner the tragedy of Algeria's war of independence by portraying the misadventures of its main character, a bourgeois character trapped in the midst of the Algerian revolution. His third movie Décembre (December), released in 1972, explores the issue of torture. The movie narrated the case of a French officer troubled by the violent acts of torture perpetrated by the French army against members of the FLN.
Chronique des années de braise (Chronicle of the Years of Embers, 1974), however, is Lakhdar-Hamina's most important work. In 1975, he achieved worldwide recognition when the movie was awarded the Golden Palm at Cannes. The film, which offers a personal vision of the Algerian revolution, traces the evolution of the revolutionary movement from 1939 until the beginnings of the 1954 insurrection against the French. To this day, Chronicle of the Years of Embers remains the only African film to have been awarded the Golden Palm at Cannes. The movie is divided into six sections: "The Years of Ashes," "The Years of Embers," "The Years of Fire," "The Year of the Cart," "The Year of the Massacre," and "1 November 1954," a date that marks the beginning of the Algerian revolution and of the war of independence. It tells the story of an Algerian peasant, Ahmad, who flees his village to escape famine and drought. The film presents violence as an unavoidable stage in the conflict between colonizer and colonized; in this regard, Lakhdar-Hamina chose to focus on the predicament of Algerian peasant communities and emphasized the gap that separated the rural Algerian peasantry from the wealthy French colonists. One of the movie's main message appears to be that, just as violence begets more violence, so colonialism can only be fought through a violent uprising. The transformation of Ahmad from illiterate peasant to revolutionary leader symbolizes the maturation of an independent national consciousness aimed at national liberation. From a cinematographic point of view, Chronicle makes use of camera techniques that emphasize feelings of uprootedness, deprivation, and suffering caused by a colonial system of exploitation. Characteristically, Lakhdar-Hamina has consistently chosen to portray the ideological debates surrounding the construction of a national identity amidst the violent struggle against colonial domination through the representation of a national collective represented by single heroic characters, such as Ahmad, or typical antiheroes such as Hassan Terro. Equally, the prominence of the peasant world in Lakhdar-Hamina's filmography seems to consecrate rural life as one of the most important scenarios in the construction of national identity. This mythification of the Algerian peasantry as a repository of national pride and resistance would eventually be transformed during the 1980s, when Algerian cinema became more concerned with urban characters and focused on the crisis of postcolonial conflicts.
PERSONAL DRAMA WITHOUT ORNAMENTATION
I wanted to reconstitute on the screen their personal drama without ornamentation, without demagogy, and through the tragedy of two beings thrown in turmoil, and to denounce the war and the violence. I do not like, however, to linger on the description of violence.
MUHAMMAD LAKHDAR-HAMINA, ON WIND OF THE AURÉS, CITED IN BOUDJEDRA, RACHID. "THE BIRTH OF ALGERIAN CINEMA: THE ANTI-HERO." ALIF: JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE POETICS NO. 15 (1995): 260-266.
In Vent de sable (Sand storm), released in 1982, Lakhdar-Hamina portrays the life of an isolated rural community fragmented by violence. It tells the story of Amara, a man whose wife gives birth to their eighth daughter; unable to withstand the dishonor of not fathering a son, Amara plans a revenge. The plot allows Lakhdar-Hamina to explore the difficult terrain of gender relations and gender violence. His most recent movie, La Dernière Image (The last image), was part of the Official Selection at Cannes Film Festival in 1986 and was nominated for the Golden Palm. Lakhdar-Hamina's son, Malik Lakhdar-Hamina, became well known after the release of his first long film, Autumn: October in Algiers (1992), a film that explores the riots of October 1988 through the microcosm of an Algerian family split by a Westernized versus Islamicized view of contemporary Algeria. His other son, Tariq Lakhdar-Hamina, is a film producer. A polemic figure, Lakhdar-Hamina has been occasionally accused of mismanagement and nepotism in his filmic productions.
THE WORLD'S PERSPECTIVE
A true son of the Algerian revolution, Lakhdar-Hamina is one of the foremost representatives of contemporary Arabic cinema and is widely recognized as one of its most prominent figures abroad. His cinematographic work has received worldwide recognition at the Cannes Film Festival, where it remains the only African film to have been awarded the Golden Palm as of 2007.
Despite ceasing his cinematographic production in 1986, Lakhdar-Hamina will be remembered as one of the most important contemporary Arab cinematographers of our time.
Boudjedra, Rachid. Naissance du Cinéma Algérien. Paris: François Maspero, 1971.
――――――. "The Birth of Algerian Cinema: The Anti-Hero." Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, no. 15 (1995): 260-266.
Hafez, Sabry. "Shifting Identities in Maghrebi Cinema: The Algerian Paradigm." Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, no. 15 (1995): 39-80.
Pearson, Lyle. "Four Years of North African Film." Film Quarterly 26, no. 4 (Summer, 1973): 18-26.