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Reviewed by:
  • El Chergui or the Violent Silence dir. by Moumen Smihi
  • Bouchra Badaoui
El Chergui or the Violent Silence ( 1975) Directed by Moumen Smihi Distributed by Cinémathèque de Tanger (CDT) www.cinemathequedetanger.com 90 minutes

El Chergui portrays Tangier as a cosmopolitan city that is crisscrossed by multiple narratives of belonging. The contested identity of the city is written in its spatiality, which provides a material inscription of historical memory. It is in this contested space that different competing visions of identity, as well as Tangier's relationship to the national and to the global, are experienced. These various contests take the form of narratives written in space and time, since the film deals with Tangier on the eve of independence. Indeed, they determine the extent to which this space can be regarded as translocal or cosmopolitan.

The film opens on a long shot of the cityscape, accompanied by a Berber song. This cultural marker of the city is unmistakably at the center of the frame, as other historical monuments, buildings, houses, streets and flags pass in front of the rapidly moving camera. We get a feel for the city's diversity and crisscrossed histories in this swift opening. These spatial icons (foreign names, buildings, tourist sites, and so on) thread through the film, with the shots being held long enough for us to notice them.

What Smihi's film represents, in a sense, is a material inscription of history. Thus, what might be called Tangier's past—or the memories of the city—is worked into the film visually and spatially. Historical monuments with Spanish architectural elements are frequently featured, but in one scene, which features the protagonist Aicha walking by an old city wall, the title "Villa de France" is chiseled into the stone. This shot is all the more significant because it introduces a motif that dominates the whole film: the encounter between colonial presence and indigenous people. It is an encounter between modernity (albeit a decaying modernity) and tradition, since the camera draws our attention to the figure of a veiled Moroccan woman walking by the French villa. This colonial inscription of the urban is further foregrounded in the names of some streets and places that the camera swiftly passes by: Boulevard Pasteur, Rue DeLaroix, Garage Levante. These names—and other icons like flags and buildings—not only act as symbols of possession and appropriation, but also manifest a political identity and help construct a certain vision of the city: Tangier as a site of multiple, crisscrossed histories.

Indeed, the representation of the cosmopolitan character of Tangier in visual or iconic terms is a recurring theme in the film. Another example incorporates visual references to different nationalisms by including shots of various flags (American, Spanish and British). As such, the very identity of Tangier to which these flags supposedly correspond is being disputed. The city is a surface that is inscribed upon by history in ways that will determine the unfolding narrative of Tangier's national identity, which by the end of the film is even more open to question. A British flag in the port of Tangier suggests the encroachment of foreign capital on business there.

The last scenes in the film succinctly picture Tangier as a translocal city. The film closes with Aicha's death, the relocation of foreign business at the port, and the resulting unemployment of workers, ultimately leading to a decline in the standard of living. The force [End Page 107] of globalization, with the new forms of capital, has led to the closing of the port and its subsequent socially deleterious effects. The last shots of the film sensitively depict the economic and social decline of workers in the international city of Tangier. One shot depicts a worker returning from the port, which he finds closed. Following that is a long shot of unemployed workers in the streets.

Aicha's death at the end of the film is a minimized event which the camera swiftly zooms past in order to move on to a depiction of the misery and helplessness generated by the encroachment of foreign business and bosses, which has also led to greater economic exploitation...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9922
Print ISSN
0360-3695
Pages
pp. 107-110
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-29
Open Access
No
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