Tag Archives: colonialism

Inch’ Allah Dimanche (2001)

  “France is messing up her brain.”

inch-allahInch’ Allah Dimanche is an amazing film–right up until the last 5 minutes when it loses all credibility. Set in 1974, it’s the heart-wrenching story of an Algerian family reunited under French president Chirac’s “Family Reunion” policy. Up until that time, Algerian men who worked in France were not allowed to bring their families with them, but in 1974, that law changed. Zouina (Fejria Deliba) and her three small children leave for France with her truculent mother-in-law Aicha (Rabia Mokeddem). Zouina–who’s lived apart from her husband Ahmed (Zinedine Soualem) for 10 years doesn’t want to leave her elderly mother, but she’s dragged aboard the ship, and it sails to France.

The reunion isn’t a particularly happy one. While Ahmed greets his mother and ushers her graciously inside their new home, Zouina is more-or-less ignored, and this sets the tone for the relationships in the household. Zouina is completely under the control of her mother-in-law, and forbidden to leave the house, she’s treated like a slave. Zouina is relentlessly abused verbally as a matter of course, and beaten when she actually does something wrong. While Zouina speaks French, she doesn’t understand the culture, and many incidents occur that result in beatings. She manages to make two friends–Nicole, a young divorced woman, and the widow of an officer killed in Algeria.

While Zouina’s plight is explored with some intensity, the film also includes moments of lightheartedness. Zouina’s neighbours–the Donzes–are a house-proud pair of gardening fanatics who are simultaneously appalled and fascinated by the goings-on next door. Unfortunately, as the film reaches a crescendo, it dives into complete implausibility, and there is no reason whatsoever to explain the complete reversal that takes place. This cop-out ending just doesn’t fit the rest of the film, and that’s a shame. From writer/director Yamina Benguigui, Inch’ Allah Dimanche is in Arabic and French with English subtitles.

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Rachida (2002)

 “Hell is in my heart.”

Rachida an Algerian film directed by Yamina Bachir Chouikh explores the affects orachidaf terrorism on a young teacher. On the way to school, Rachida (Ibtissem Djouadi) is surrounded by a group of terrorists who demand that she plant a bomb at her school. When she refuses, she’s shot at point blank range. Although Rachida recovers, her psychological scars remain. Realizing that Rachida may be a potential target, her mother decides to move from Algiers into a remote village for safety, but it seems that violence is inescapable.

Rachida doesn’t glamorize terrorism–neither does it waste any time on humanizing the terrorists. Instead its focus is squarely on the innocents–those people who are working and struggling to make ends meet when suddenly their lives are ripped apart by violence. The village Rachida and her mother move to is subjected to frequent raids by a youthful thuggish gang of violent, well-armed terrorists. Rachida’s experiences are emblematic of the terrorist unrest in Algeria in the 90s (over 100,000 lives were claimed by terrorist violence). The villagers are easy pickings for the terrorists who swoop in and conduct armed raids, slaughtering and raping as they fancy.

Rachida is obviously not a high budget film, but nonetheless, this film is all that’s right in foreign cinema these days. Ibtissem Djouadi delivers a moving portrait of a young woman who struggles to maintain her human dignity in the face of inchoate, senseless violence. While the film touches on the fact that the terrorists are members of the Islamic Salvation Front, the film also focuses on the victimization of women in a patriarchal society that views women as property. One young girl, for example, is forced into marriage while the young man she cares for is constantly run off by her father–another young girl is raped by terrorists and ejected from her home as she’s somehow considered to blame for what happened to her. Scenes of great beauty (there’s a fantastic wedding party sequence) are juxtaposed with scenes of senseless cruelty, but the film is subtle, and doesn’t plant any unrealistic political speeches in the mouths of its characters. For those who watch the DVD, “The Director’s Statement”, and the section “Film in Context” should not be missed. This is a marvelous film, and by its conclusion, Rachida’s question remains: “Where was all this hate buried?” In French and Arabic with English subtitles.

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China Seas (1935)

 “When a woman can love a man right down to her fingertips, she can hate him the same way.”

Passion, jealousy, and revenge are at the heart of China Seas–one of six films Jean Harlow and Clark Gable made together. Harlow plays tough talking, entertainer Dolly ‘China Doll’ Portland. Clark Gable plays the roguish Captain Alan Gaskell. When the film begins, Captain Gaskell arrives on his ship unshaven and somewhat the worse for wear after several days R&R in Hong Kong. China Doll appears in Gaskell’s cabin, and even though they’ve had a relationship, Gaskell makes it clear that he wants her to leave. When China Doll begs to be allowed to remain on the ship–citing a job in Singapore–he reluctantly agrees to let her stay on board. China Doll obviously sees the voyage as chance to wear down Gaskell’s resistance, and to worm her way into a long-term relationship.

china-seasChina Doll’s plans to win over Gaskell are crushed with the arrival of Lady Sybil Barclay (Rosalind Russell). She’s a former love from Gaskell’s past–a woman whose marriage caused him to leave England. Lady Sybil is now widowed, and apparently her trip to the Orient is for the sole purpose of finding Gaskell again.

Positioning the well-mannered Lady Sybil against the rather “common” China Doll is a masterstroke. The two women are soon squabbling over Gaskell using their own unique tactics. In Lady Sybil’s case, this means dropping references to Gaskell’s former life in England. In China Doll’s case, she reacts with crass behaviour that amuses the audience but alienates fellow passengers and embarrasses Gaskell. Soon China Doll discovers that she is a social outcast at the Captain’s table, and she throws in her lot with Jamesy MacArdle (Wallace Beery).

The second half of the film shifts from its romantic overtones and delivers action. Gaskell struggles against a typhoon, and then his ship is overrun with Malay pirates who seek a secret gold shipment Gaskell has hidden on board. China Doll faces some tough choices–will she rise to the occasion and become a better human being, or will she sink and fulfill Gaskell’s expectations of her character? China Seas is a delightful Harlow vehicle, and she delivers a fierce, impressive performance when she finally takes her moral stand. Directed by Tay Garnett.

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Red Dust (1932)

 “This woman is decent. Stop running around half naked.”

red1Red Dust is one of the six films that Clark Gable and Jean Harlow made together. It’s set in the jungles of Indochina, and Gable is Dennis Carson, a lonely and frequently grumpy bachelor who runs a rubber plantation. Carson returns home one day to find prostitute Vantine Jefferson (Jean Harlow) in one of his bedrooms. She’s traveled to the heart of the jungle along with one of Carson’s drunken employees, and she intends to hide out from the Saigon authorities until things ‘cool down’. Carson quickly discovers how impossible it is to ignore Vantine–even though he tries his best. Vantine spends her first evening at Carson’s squabbling with her reluctant host over the merits of Roquefort cheese, and with undeniable chemistry between them, they rapidly strike up a relationship.

Carson’s new employee Gary Willis (Gene Raymond) arrives with his ladylike bride Barbara (Mary Astor) on the same boat that is to take Vantine back to Saigon. Vantine seems to want to just carry away her good memories, but Carson crassly insists on paying her for her ‘friendliness’ towards him. With Vantine out of the picture, Carson rapidly becomes enamored with Barbara, and he invents excuses to get rid of her hubbie, so he can seduce her in private. Vantine’s unexpected arrival back at Carson’s jungle quarters spoils–but doesn’t halt–Carson’s calculated seduction of Barbara.

Red Dust is Harlow’s film. She’s just magnificent as the sarcastic, unsentimental wisecracking floozy, Vantine. World-weary and more than a little shopworn, she’s the complete opposite of delicate, pampered, insipid Barbara. And it’s more than a bit galling for Vantine to see Carson scrambling to cater to Barbara’s every whim. Clark Gable is splendid as the bounder who can’t keep his hands off of Barbara, and her unavailability and unsuitability just seem to egg him on. This pre-code film isn’t particularly shy about showing Carson as the colonial exploiter who whacks the natives around while calling them ‘slugs’. Within the first five minutes of the film, he beats the natives and slaps a drunk silly. Red Dust was remade as Mogambo years later with Clark Gable in the same role.

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