Screenplay : Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, Louise Thermes
Running time: 100 min
Released in 2006, Bled Number One justly gathered awards worldwide as well as the “Prix de la Jeunesse” (Youth Award) in the section “Un Certain Regard” (A Certain Outlook) at Cannes the same year. Algerian director Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche’s second film is an interesting example of how colonial past and metropolitan lifestyle mesh within French contemporary culture. With its documentary aspect, beautiful close-ups and abstract moments of pure “inner time”, Bled Number One is a tribute to early cinema and Algeria, though it doesn’t shy away from criticising the mother country.
An opening tracking shot through a winding alley-way, complete with Cheb Mami’s lament echoing against the white-washed houses, constitutes the start of a strange adventure. The film will leave the location and time indeterminate until the end. The disconcerting structure of Bled Number One shows daily life in the village of Loulouj, mid-way between mountains and sea. In the manner of a North-African Tsai-Min Liang, RAZ’s lingering camera focuses on people and details (gazes, boat wrecks or half-open shutters) rather than action, in long takes, sometimes to the point of discomfort.
Things are happening though. Bouzid (Abel Jafri), a local resident, organises a defence committee to fight roaming fundamentalist youths. Kamel “La France” (RAZ himself), back to Algeria after doing time in prison on the other side of the Mediterranean, wanders around places and people without any defined status. Bouzid’s sister Louisa (wonderful singer/ songwriter Meryem Serbah) can’t flee her abusive husband (famous stand-up comedian Ramzy Bedia) without getting beaten up by her brother in the process. She finally fulfils her forbidden passion for music and performs eerie blues songs in front of the real staff and patients of Constantine’s mental institution, in which she takes refuge after a suicide attempt.
Music plays a key part in the film, some scenes being built around contemplative moments where Kamel seeks solace in the bewitching hills surrounding the village, and listens to an anonymous guitar player’s hyper-saturated and psychedelic sounds. Rodolphe Burger, ex-singer and lead guitar of the 90s indie band Kat Onoma, brings his cult presence and electrifying compositions for a dreamy effect. Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche’s self-produced family enterprise (most of the village inhabitants are also his relatives) shows a divided Algeria fighting a new rise of fundamentalism while treating women as second-class citizens. Playfully misleading and constantly though-provoking, Bled Number One brings in a fresh outlook on the Franco-Algerian troubled rapport.