Chronique des Années de Braise
CHRONIQUE DES ANNÉES DE BRAISE
(Chronicle of the Years of Embers)
Director: Mohammed Lakhdar Hamina
Production: O.N.C.I.C. (Algeria); Eastmancolor, 70mm, Panavision; running time: 170 minutes. Filmed in Algeria.
Production manager: Mohammed (sometimes Mohamed) Lakhdar Hamina; screenplay: Mohammed Lakhdar Hamina and Tewfik Fares; photography: Marcello Gatti; editor: Youcef Tobni; music: Philippe Arthuys.
Cast: Mohammed Lakhdar Hamina (Miloud); Jorgo Voyagis (Ahmed); Leila Shenna (Wife); Cheik Nourredine (Friend); Larbi Sekkai (Larbi); Hassan Hassani; M. Kouiret; Francois Maistre.
Awards: Grand Prix, Cannes Film Festival, 1975.
Salmane, Hala, editor, Algerian Cinema, London, 1976.
Brossard, Jean-Pierre, L'Algerie vue par son cinéma, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, 1981.
Dupont, C., "Entretien avec Lakhdar Hamina," in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), Spring 1975.
Moskowitz, G., in Variety (New York), 21 May 1975.
"Lakhdar Hamina issue" of Cahiers de la Cinématheque (Perpignan), Summer 1975.
Cineforum (Bergamo), June-July 1975.
Interview with Lakhdar Hamina in Ecran (Paris), July-August 1975.
Cinématographe (Paris), August-September 1975.
Ecran (Paris), October 1975.
Hollywood Reporter, 29 October 1975.
Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1976.
Horvath, Z., "Filmeposz hat tetelben," in Filmkultura (Budapest), May-June 1977.
Manoiu, A., "De la prima incercare o lovitura de maestru," in Cinema (Bucharest), June 1977.
Manoiu, A., and V. Sava, in Cinema (Bucharest), August 1977.
Prochnow, C., "Leiden und Emporung dann Alltag," in Film undFernsehen (Berlin), April 1978.
Nassar, I., "The Chronicle of the Years of Embers," in AmericanHistorical Review, vol. 99, no. 4, 1994.
Serceau, M., in Cinemaction (Conde-sur-Noireau), March/June 1997.
* * *
Mohammed Lakhdar Hamina is a key figure in the development of Algerian cinema, and one of the most talented and ambitious of Arab directors. Trained in Czechoslovakia, he began his career as a documentary filmmaker. His first feature, released in 1966, was one of the very first Algerian national productions. Chronique des années de braise, his fourth feature, made almost ten years later and designed to celebrate the outbreak of the Algerian Revolution on November 1, 1954, is without question one of the most striking of all third world films. Winning a Grand Prix at Cannes in 1975, it created a new international awareness for Algerian cinema, but for Arab critics, and for some of Lakhdar Hamina's fellow directors it has remained a controversial work. Particular attention was focused in the 1970s on its enormous cost, with critics claiming that a dozen modest features could have been made with the funds squandered on this extravagant epic.
Certainly Chronique des années de braise is an impressive work, with production values to match its cost. A monumental three-hour study of recent Algerian history, it gives a clear illustration of the high technical capability of the young Algerian film industry while confronting international cinema on its own terms. It is beautifully shot, with all the gloss of a Hollywood epic, but in achieving this result the director has had to sacrifice much of the specific national quality. In particular critics were hostile to the lushly orchestrated musical score by the French composer Philippe Arthuys, which owes nothing to Algerian musical traditions. It is fair to say that Lakhdar Hamina achieves something of the epic quality of the later David Lean. This is a remarkable feat in a country with a filmmaking history of barely a dozen years; but at the same time, this approach is questionable in terms of the priorities of a third world country like Algeria which in the 1970s began to take on an increasingly important international role.
In retrospect, the principal questions concerning this film derive less from its cost than from its narrative stance. Lakhdar Hamina defines his work as a personal vision and brushes aside questions of historical accuracy as mere quibbles. The film, he claims, is a poetic statement which grows directly out of his own childhood experiences (he was 20 in 1954). But the film's half-dozen or so intertitles drawing attention to the key dates in the historical development of Algeria between 1939 and 1954 deny the validity of a purely personal reading: Chronique des années de braise demands interpretation as an epic of the national consciousness. In this sense the film's inadequacies become clear. It offers less political insight than a purely lyrical protest; and the poverty and sufferings of the colonized are presented in lushly beautiful images which negate or, at least, defuse, the film's anger. The narrative intertwines two stories. One is that of a key Arab literary figure—the knowing madman (played with enormous gusto by Lakhdar Hamina himself)—who dies on the eve of revolution. The other concerns Ahmed, a totally mythologised figure, who is successively an uneducated peasant driven from his land, a skilled urban worker and—in a transformation all too reminiscent of western romantic melodrama—an unbelievably skilful horseman and swordsman defending his people against the savagery of the colonizers. Despite all Lakhdar Hamina's eloquence and directorial self-assurance, nothing could be more mystificatory than such a depiction of the 15-year origin of the national revolution.