Allouache was born in 1944 in the working-class Algiers neighborhood of Bab el-Oued. His father was a postal worker and his mother a housewife, like most Algerian mothers at that time. After graduating from the National Institute of Cinema in Algiers in 1964, Allouache went on to pursue his studies at the celebrated IDHEC (Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinématographiques) in Paris. A few years later, he returned to Algeria to work as an advisor at the Ministry of Culture. He also worked on several productions for the Algerian Television. He made a name for himself at a young age when his first feature film, Omar Gatlato, entered the official competition of the Cannes Film Festival in 1977. After directing Adventures of a Hero (1978) and The Man Who Looked at Windows (1982), Allouache moved to France, where he directed Love in Paris in 1988, a romantic comedy with a lucid look at the issues of ethnic diversity and discrimination. While there, he also worked on TV documentaries for several French television channels. When Allouache returned to Algeria in the late 1980s, the country was in the middle of social and political transformations, following the October 1988 riots and then the fall of the Berlin Wall, the following year. In 1989 he made Following October, a documentary dealing with the riots of 1988. The civil war of the 1990s in Algeria represents an open wound for Merzak Allouache. In 1993, Allouache returned to feature-length films with a great hit, Bab El Oued City, a movie now considered a classic in Algerian cinema. The movie deals with the rapid rise of Islamism and revolves around the character of Boualem, a baker who stands up to the bullying Islamists. This film won the International Critics’ Prize at Cannes in 1994 and the Grand Prize at the 1994 Arab Film Festival in Paris. Due to the dangerous conditions in Algeria in the mid-1990s, especially for artists and intellectuals, Allouache had to move to France again in 1994, where he remained till today. In 1995, he was asked to participate in the international compilation film, Lumière et Compagnie, which was a tribute to the founders of cinema. The following year, he returned to Cannes with Salut Cousin!, starring Moroccan comedian Gad Elmaleh. This film, which depicts the lives of Algerian immigrants in France, became an international success. In 1998, he made Alger-Beirut, a Souvenir for the Franco-German TV channel, ARTE, which was another opportunity for Allouache to make an «Algerian film without really needing to go there.» In 1999, Allouache went back to Algeria for a short stay, which gave him the idea to shoot The Other World (2000). This film depicts the violence created by the Islamist terrorists during the preceding years, through the perspective of a Franco-Algerian woman who went to Algeria to look for her fiancé, Rachid, who had gone there to complete his military service but disappeared after his regiment was ambushed by Islamic terrorists. In 2002, Allouache collaborated again with Gad Elmaleh in Chouchou, a movie about North African transvestites in Paris. This film, which starred three celebrated French actors , met with huge success in France and could easily have placed Allouache at the highest level of sought-after directors in France had he chosen to make similar films afterwards. However, he decided to keep making films about his native country, knowing perfectly well that support and success would be less likely to come his way. In 2004, he went back to Algiers to make another comedy about the effects of the Internet on Algeria’s youth. This film, Bab el-Web, was subsidized by French funding, and to comply with the subsidy regulations the film had to include at least fifty-one percent of its dialogue in French, even though the entire story takes place in Algiers. This language barrier has, I believe, altered the Algerian touch of the film, and prevented it from being more successful. In 2008, Allouache made Tamanrasset, a TV film about clandestine migration from sub-Saharan African to Algeria through the Sahara Desert. The pivotal moment in Allouache’s career came in 2009 when he wrote and directed Harragas, a film about Algerian youngsters who cross the Mediterranean Sea on small boats, risking their lives in the hope of a better future in Europe. The Algerian government, which partially funded the film, did not appreciate its content and has since decided to boycott him and terminate any kind of support for his films. Consequently, Harragas has since been ignored and badly reviewed by some journalists in the Algerian press. In 2011, Allouache infuriated the government again with his highly acclaimed film, The Repentant. The story, based on actual events, is a commentary on the government’s policy of reconciliation, by which they offered not just amnesty but also privileges to the terrorists who agreed to turn in their weapons to the police. The Repentant breaks the silence around this issue of amnesty. That same year, Allouache made Normal!, another controversial film on institutional and self- censorship in Algeria in the context of the Arab Spring. In 2013, Allouache released what I believe is his magnum opus, The Rooftops. This movie, structured like a collection of short stories, is an accusation against society in general, whereby “nobody likes anybody” and in which crime, corruption, violence, iniquity, misogyny, fanaticism, charlatanism, and cowardice become the norm. One of the characters in this film, Krimo, makes a reference to the main character in Omar Gatlato (1976), intended to show that the situation has not changed much since. In 2016, Allouache made a semi-fiction semi-documentary, Investigating Paradise, which features interviews with Algerians from all walks of life regarding their views regarding the concept of paradise. Its subtle message though is about the devastating effects of radical Islam on Algerian society and on its youths in particular. In 2018, Allouache wrote and directed Vent divin (Divine Wind), and excellent film based on the January 2013 terrorist attack of a gas plant in Ain Amenas, Algeria. This film serves as a reminder that the specter of radical Islam and its terrorist violence have not completely disappeared in the Algerian landscape. The latest Allouache production to-date is a feature film, entitled Paysages D’automne (Landscapes of Fall, 2019). Allouache has also made some less-known documentaries and short films for some European TV channels. Among these: Voices of Ramadhan (BBC, 1991), Il était une fois Donyazad (1996), Dans la décapotable (1996), and A Bicyclette (2001).
Nabil Boudraa, May 18th, 2020
ALGERIA ON SCREEN - 2019
by Nabil BoudraaAlgeria is, without a doubt, one of the most complex societies of the modern world. This country is known for its ancient history, its multilingualism, its multiethnic social fabric, its glorious War of Independence, its leadership for Third World movements in the 1960s, and its tragic “Dark Decade” of the 1990s. To date, no filmmaker has depicted this Algerian complexity better than Merzak Allouache. He has devoted his entire filmmaking career, spanning over forty years, to a lucid portrayal of this complex and yet fascinating nation. This study explains how Allouache broke away from state-run cinema to create an original style that makes him both unique and extremely interesting.
WAITING FOR OMAR GATLATO - 2019
by Natasha Marie LlorensArtists who belong to Algeria are caught between a national mythology that does not represent them and a historical space blanked out by state-sanctioned amnesia on both sides of the Mediterranean. Waiting for Omar Gatlato: A Survey of Contemporary Art from Algeria and Its Diaspora presents the work of twenty-five such artists who offer diverse representations of everyday life and are rigorously critical in their engagement with the legacies of Orientalist figuration, modernist abstraction, monumental public art, Conceptual art, and postmodern media theory after 1962, in a postindependence context. This publication includes the first English translations of texts by key theorists of contemporary art in Algeria on the evolving relationship between art and politics, as well as poetry by Samira Negrouche and a graphic essay by Nawel Louerrad. The book’s title comes from an essay by Wassyla Tamzali on Merzak Allouache’s 1977 film OMAR GATLATO.
OMAR GATLATO - LE SCÉNARIO ILLUSTRÉ - 1987
by Merzak AllouacheJ'ai reconnu le choc. Le même que celui autrefois éprouvé au spectacle du VOLEUR DE BICYCLETTE. Finesse de l'observateur en direct, tendresse tempérée de drôlerie, sensation d'authenticité, qui conférait à la sympathie non déguisée pour les milieux populaires le poids de l'objectivité : pareil ton avait tout pour saisir. À sa nouveauté, s'ajoutait la volonté délibérée de choisir les personnages parmi les petites gens et les intrigues dans les péripéties minuscules du quotidien populaire. Plutôt que d'un retour à un populisme essoufflé depuis belle lurette et qu'avaient achevé le pittoresque folklorique et les jérémiades mélodramatico-larmoyantes, on parla de néo-réalisme italien. Ce fut pour en chanter les louanges - Jean-Louis Bory
A few resources...
- Paysages d'automne, periodismo a pesar de todo by Pablo Alberola
- Paysages d'automne, una periodista valiente en un mundo corrupto by Laura Botta
- 35 Mostra de Valencia: “Paysages d’automne” & “Luxor” by G.Leon
- Paysages d'automne: ¿Por qué vemos el cine que vemos? by Rafa Rodríguez Gimeno
- Divine Wind by Scott Tobias
- Investigating paradise by Deborah Young
- Madame courage: The review by Alessia Pelonzi
- Les Terrasses : Cinq points de vue sur Alger by Franck Nouchi
- “Les Terrasses” de Merzak Allouache : chroniques d’une Algérie déglinguée by Akram Belkaid
- Le Repenti : Un film sec et violent sur la guerre civile algérienne by Thomas Sotinel
- Le Repenti : Après la Décennie noire, l’Algérie dans la nuit de l’oubli by Arnaud Schwartz
- Le Repenti de Merzak Allouache ou la mal vie des jeunes algériens by Alexandre Boussageon
- Harragas: The desperation of young Algerians risking life and limb to leave their country by Jay Weissberg
- Harragas de Merzak Allouache by Coline Crance
- Writer-helmer Merzak Allouache follows his local comic hit with the sweetly inconsequential Bab el Web by Lisa Nesselson
- De Chouchou à The Danish Girl : La transsexualité s'affirme au cinéma by Alicia Paulet
- Ils se marièrent… etc. : Chouchou, La Confusion des genres et autres mariages by Mireille Rosello
- Chouchou : Une fable contemporaine by D. Dep
- L'autre monde de Merzak Allouache by Olivier Barlet
- Salut Cousin, a strong story of immigrants by John Petrakis
- Salut Cousin, Algiers in Paris by Hadani Ditmars
- Salut Cousin, Algerians In Paris As City and Country Mice by Stephen Holder
- Bab el oued City, Algeria's Incendiary Mix Of Poverty and Islam by Stephen Holder
- Bab el oued City by Deborah Young
- L'homme qui regardait les fenêtres, l'écriture et l'intraduisible by Alain Masson
- L'homme qui regardait les fenêtres, rencontre avec Merzak Allouache by Fanny Colonna
- Tigritudes 2021, redécouverte d'Omar Gatlato by Hugo Jordan
- Retour sur “Omar Gatlato” : les raisons d’un succès by Nabil Djedouani
- Omar Gatlato : un “picaro” d’Alger by Ignacio Ramonet
- Omar Gatlato: Dreams of Dissemination by Natasha Marie Llorens
- Waiting for Omar Gatlato: A Survey of Algerian Contemporary Art by Audrey Deng
Bahia Allouache has been writing and co-writing scripts since 2004. In 2012, she shoots her first short film ANOTHER ORDINARY DAY in Algiers. CINEMA CHKOUPI is her first feature film.