- France, Algeria and the Moving Image: Screening Histories of Violence 1963–2010 by Maria Flood
France’s reluctant retreat from empire continues to resist closure, whether political or psychological, historiographic or artistic. This is particularly true of Algeria, once the jewel in the crown, where settler demographics and ideological entrenchment combined to fuel the particular ferocity of the Algerian War of Independence (1954–62). Since that conflict, a broad range of artists have joined memory communities on both sides of the Mediterranean in seeking to understand what Patrick Rotman and Bertrand Tavernier fittingly characterized in their own landmark documentary as La Guerre sans nom (1992). As this title suggests, and as Maria Flood persuasively argues, processes of identification, designation, and representation remain of critical importance in the Franco-Algerian context. This conceptual linkage is both underscored and exemplified by the close imbrication of the aesthetic and the political in the filmic texts highlighted here. Filmmakers have been to the fore in the artistic engagement with the interwoven violence of the war of decolonization and the periodic convulsions of the post-independence Algerian polity, culminating in the civil war of the 1990s. While Flood’s study engages productively with the broader history of cinematic representations of the Franco-Algerian relationship — including such iconic treatments of historical violence as Gillo Pontecorvo’s La Bataille d’Alger (1966) — her primary focus is on close readings of representative works which reveal the potential of artistic innovation to make violence visible and comprehensible or, conversely, to conceal and obfuscate it. The volume’s chronological sweep is matched by the thematic, formal, and authorial diversity of the five films presented as case studies: Alain Resnais’s Muriel (1963), fruitfully juxtaposed with Michael Haneke’s Caché (2005); Assia Djebar’s La Nouba des femmes du Mont Chenoua (1978), similarly set against Nadir Moknèche’s Viva Laldjérie (2004); and finally Xavier Beauvois’s critical and popular success Des hommes et des dieux (2010), which is convincingly reassessed as a heritage film. Flood deftly delineates the specifics of the production and the consumption of these very varied examples of moving image art, locating them constructively within the foregrounded histories of violence: the torture and murder of Algerian prisoners by French troops (Resnais); the massacre of Algerian demonstrators by the Paris police on 17 October 1961 (Haneke); gendered violence both during and after the Algerian revolution (Djebar); the challenges to individual safety, psychological integrity, and personal freedoms posed by religious fundamentalism during the civil war and since (Moknèche); and terrorist violence as visited upon a community of Trappist monks in 1996 (Beauvois). Combining scholarly precision with formal concision, Flood’s volume ranges widely and innovatively across the highlighted representations of Franco-Algerian violence from the colonial period to the present, providing valuable insights into the broader landscape of relations between the two countries, and specifically the violence, both punctual and systemic, that has historically underpinned them. In the process, it justifies her foundational argument, namely the capacity of the imagined spaces of cinema [End Page 494] not only to reflect critically on the colonial past and the postcolonial present, but also actively to imagine alternative futures, in France, Algeria, and beyond.