Alone, camera in hand, Lina Soualem dedicated three years of her life to collect the words of her Algerian paternal grandparents to break the “heavy” family silence which marked a part of his life. Between laughter and tears, often those of her grandmother Aïcha, and the always eloquent silence of her grandfather Mabrouk, she delivers a modest documentary that captures the inextinguishable emotion aroused by uprooting. Maintenance.
franceinfo Africa: It is the story of your grandparents, but it is also that of your father and yourself. How do you decide to make a film that is necessarily intimate?
Lina Soualem : I think it wasn’t really a decision. It was a real necessity when I started the film, because the silence in my Algerian family had been bothering me for several years. In addition, as I studied history, I learned the history of Algeria, colonization and independence. And besides that, in the intimate, we did not speak at all about Algeria. When my father told me that my grandparents were going to separate and move, it was a huge shock to me. I realized that I didn’t know anything about their exile story and what they had been through as a couple. At that time, I have a real fear of the disappearance and loss of memory, fear that they will never transmit this memory. I had to go and capture it and I immediately thought of a movie. I felt that it was a story common to the uprooted, beyond the Algerians. There was a pain that had to be confronted and above all that had to be transmitted in order to free things.
Did this film satisfy your quest for answers?
I especially understood that I was not going to have any answers (laughs). At first, I left like a little girl who wanted answers and answers. After a while, when I understood that this silence hid the pain of being uprooted, of the loss of the land and of separation from the parents, I then understood where this silence came from and therefore I more sought to explore how the silence affected them and how it imposed itself on my father’s generation and mine. Above all, it allowed us to reconcile ourselves with the past, to transform memory into something positive because the weight of silence affects a lot.
Did you rediscover your grandparents while making this documentary?
I knew my grandmother much better than my grandfather because he didn’t speak. In my grandmother, there was always something that intrigued and fascinated me because she told us tragic anecdotes while laughing. There is one that was spinning a lot: when she found out that she was going to marry our grandfather, she climbed on a palm tree and she stayed there all afternoon. I wondered about this discrepancy. As for my grandfather, I discovered the young man of 19 who comes from the Algerian countryside and who is fascinated by industry and its machines. There is also the man who was at the time of the film, namely an elderly man who has worked his whole life, 70 hours a week in a cutlery factory and who says to himself “what’s the point ?” and which has never found its place in French society.
The idea of remaining Algerian in spite of everything, which we perceive in your grandfather, runs through your film and shows that these uprooted people have never given up their country of origin …
When Algeria became independent, they became Algerians automatically and to become French, you had to apply for reintegration. For a population that fought for its independence, it was almost a betrayal to do this. When I started the film, I didn’t know that my grandparents didn’t have a French passport because we didn’t talk about these things. I also discovered while filming it that my father applied for French nationality at the age of 28, although he had spent all his life in France. It’s crazy (laughs)! For me, who is trying to understand this Algerian identity, it allowed me to give more complexity to all this because these are themes that are often simplified.
The weight of silence triggered your cinematic approach …
Of course, it is silence! I think there is silence because history has led to this. In Algerian families, this heavy traumatic memory is very common. In addition, this generation has gone through very traumatic historical episodes. Beyond France and Algeria, I see clearly when I present the film in Spain, Italy or Egypt, we find this generation and this popular, working-class and rural social class where we do not express our feelings. . We live from day to day and it is a sacrifice so that the children can live better. This is also why my father never asks his parents questions. Algerian history is full of silence. We do not speak, to forget ourselves and move forward.
How did your grandparents welcome the “Filmmaker Lina”?
I had no resistance in the family. Everyone supported me a lot. My grandmother was very happy because I spent months with her in Thiers. The first few days she was embarrassed by the camera but she quickly got used to it because I was alone with her, we were the granddaughter and the grandmother. She was very proud and curious to see me “tampering” with the camera. She also got caught up in the game because when we were filming outside, people would say: “Aïcha, the star!”. She was proud to show that her granddaughter cared about her and her story. As for my grandfather, I don’t know if he was aware of the work I was doing. At first, he didn’t want to talk about his story because rekindling the past was unnecessary and painful for him. Then, little by little, I think he understood the importance of this film for me.
What memories do you have of your now deceased grandfather?
These are the moments spent with him, especially during filming. This is the first time in my life that I see these emotions on his face. He left and I tell myself that finally I managed to transmit something to him at the end of his life and prove to him that the transmission was not completely broken. By going to Algeria, it allowed me to reconnect with him and exchange these emotions with him and, for me, it was extraordinary.
When you finish this type of documentary, what do you say to yourself about the Franco-Algerian relationship?
For me, the key lies in memory. This film makes it possible to put forward a memory and to allow it to exist in the public space because the problem is that our memories do not exist in this space. We are in a country where we go to school and we are not taught these stories. And yet it is part of French history. When France spent 130 years in Algeria, we suddenly understand that Algerian immigrants do not come from nowhere. It is a historical continuity. But their story is treated as a parallel and alien story. And we ask them to redouble their efforts to belong to this French company. I think that to be able to talk about these intimate memories – the collective is nested in the intimate – it is to allow all these memories to exist. Collective memory will only be truly rich and representative if all these intimate memories are added up, memories from all sides besides because silence also exists in the Pied-Noirs families, in the families of soldiers and conscripts … It is also necessary to allow people who have similar stories to talk about them and to revalue them. I see it when I do screenings in schools, children feel legitimate to talk about their families, otherwise they don’t dare. In the history books, there are two pages on colonizations. Algeria is still taboo.
“Their Algeria” by Lina Soualem
French release: October 13, 2021