French department hosts Algerian film director

On March 4th, with the help of the French and Film departments, renowned Algerian actor, director, and screenwriter Lyès Salem visited Colby for a meet and greet and film screening. His film, L’Oranais (The Man from Oran) narrated tensions and a new atmosphere of independence in the years following the Algerian Revolution. Salem wrote, directed, and starred in the film that specifically follows two lifelong friends, Djaffar and Hamid, who were leaders of the revolution and moved into positions of power after the independence.

There is an additional underlying focus on Algerian versus French identity, as the protagonists navigate a post-revolutionary Algeria. The experience culminated in an exploration of French relations in Algeria, as well as an understanding of the realization and production of films. As a French Studies major, one of the most interesting aspects of this event for me was learning about an aspect of French history that I knew nothing about, in addition to observing a francophone culture newly liberated from French rule.

Salem was born in 1973 in Algiers, Algeria, and started making films at an early age. His short film, Cousines, won a César (the French equivalent to an Oscar) in 2003, and his first feature length film, Mascarades, received a César nomination in 2009.

It was humbling and extremely exciting for us to have him on campus, especially because French and film students had the incredible opportunity to speak with him personally. In the question and answer  session following the screening, students questioned Salem about his interest in Algerian history, his desire to make the film, and how it was received. Film students asked about the technicalities of making the film. In terms of researching history and focusing on a specific number of characters, which made the entire discussion incredibly eye-opening for all the students and professors present.

There were four languages spoken in the film: French, Algerian, Arabic, and a local tongue that is a conglomeration of all three. The rapid switch between languages was astounding as well as culturally intriguing. Depending upon the societal context and characters present in the scenes, French would blend into Algerian and melt into Arabic; this transition in dialogue was fascinating in terms of both modern linguistics and the difficulty of writing a script that jumped from dialect to dialect.

Lyès Salem was a modest and charming guest speaker. He humbly accepted praise and enthusiasm from the audience, and when asked how he managed writing, directing, and acting in the film, he shrugged and responded, “C’est mon métier” – it’s my job. He did not find it especially significant or notable that he was at the head of the entire production, but focused on his desire to spread the message of the Algerian independence movement and pay homage to his home country.

The evening was very informative and diverse, and it was an incredible opportunity to have had at Colby. Many thanks to the French and film departments and to all the organizations that made this visit happen!

Comments are closed.