RIFF Movies Archive


France, 2019, - Color - 90

Lamine Ammar-Khodja


Farid HODJA et Sylvie PETIT

Elsa JONQUET and Miskine DURAKOV

Raphaël GIRARDOT and Adam WOLNY

Rebecca HOUZEL

Rebecca HOUZEL


A filmmaker in a parc on the edge of Paris, is receiving an unusual letter written by himself. Thinking of a joke at first, he is quickly overtaken by this over self, and has to give in and to respond. This opens the way to a self-portrait that does not let his close ones on a side.

This project grew out of a will to put the pieces back together. More precisely two pieces. One stayed in Algeria when I left at 19. The other, is my experience here, in France since that day (I’m 35 now). To be honest, those pieces co-exist in me without conflict (I’m not what people could call an identity neurotic). The discomfort comes from two things. On one side, people who pretend not to understand or who really don’t understand that this multiplicity actually exists in me without problem. On the other side, the complex historical background between France and Algeria. Let’s not forget that, a bit more than fifty years ago Algeria and France were the same country. The one who denies that is a lunatic ; and the nostalgic of that time is also a lunatic. So how disentagle all that ? The only way was to follow the red thread of my own story. Story that would mean nothing if it wasn’t shared by my entire generation, who is asking the same existential question : leaving or staying ? The intent ? Building a home. The process The heart of the project « A home for Buster Keaton » is built on several narrative lines, that meet or pass each other to reach the main one. These lines could be described as followed : 1- The story of a kid leaving his home in the south to move to another country in the north, and all the questionning that comes with it : the fantasy impressions a kid may have of the north, people’s preconceptions about the south, the fright of losing oneself, the sudden multiplicity of identities, the discovery of intimacy, the will of leaving the group to find one’s way, the will to go back in the group, the power relations… 2- The idea Algeria and France were once just one country, that has split, just like I did when I moved. This film is rebuilding me as one, and insidiously brings Algeria close to France again. Of course, I mean a personnal connection, not a political one, that could be mistaken for a neo colonialist nostalgia or for a will of assimilation. Let’s just talk about a move from the heart, rather than ideological. A move that gives a voice to experience not ideas. 3- The fact that, with my emigration and immigration, I don’t have a home anymore except a metaphoric one, which is cinema. 4- A new way of making films, that brings literary writing and cinema together (see the last chapter below). 5- The great existential question : leaving, or staying ? Others and ourselves I have experienced in my previous films (successfully or not…) different storytelling techniques. For « Demande à ton ombre » and « Chroniques équivoques », I was interested in finding a very personnal way to tell the story, using the « I », so I played with the codes of the diary. For « Bla Cinima », it was the opposite, I wanted to tell the story through the others’ perspectives, so I used the documentary. As for « A home for Buster Keaton » I would say it is a combination of my previous experimentations ; and that because of the scope of the film (the link between the form and the content), it is a constant change of point of vue between self and others. The storyteller First, there is the storyteller (played by me) on the screen, and who is used as the red thread in the film, his experience and story are guiding the whole movie. This character, that I created for my first two films, was the perfect tool to build a link between a motley series of elements. It was actually the only tangible connection between those elements. That is why and how I’m using this character here, like a bridge to different subjects. The narration will go back to him frequently during the film, and the audience will follow him through his thoughts, questions and comments. Thus participating, playing, dreaming, analysing, he is writing, and collecting the voices of people around him to tell the story of the movie. The characters The voice. Whose voice is it ? Is it the narrator’s voice ? His consciouness’ ? His twin’s ? The voice will be introduced as belonging to the narrator’s twin, and will described itself as coming out of a cave. Later, the voice will be heard in the night, between the branches of a tree and a street light. Later again, during the day. The voice is an indefinite character. The twin Like for the voice, he appears at the beginning of the film and comes back all along. Thanks to the discussions between the narrator and his twin, it becomes clearer and clearer that it is not a monologue the narrator is having with himself, but a game of questions/answers between the director and the audience. The twin is asking questions on which the director (me) wants the audience to give pause for thought. And this Q&A helps the narration forward. My mother She was already in « Chroniques équivoques », I’ve recently noticed I’m making films as my mother does mosaic. I bring pieces together one after the other, until it forms a big portrait. It is the first parallel between my mother and me to be drawn in the film. The second one is about cooking. My theory is that making films and cooking are the same. So I thought, if I was as good in film making as my mother was in cooking, I would be a much better director. I filmed my mother while she was cooking. My brother, Fayçal He is the other main character. The audience will discover during the movie that we have shared the same bedroom for 19 years. Meaning, until I leave for France. It is not surprising that I go back to him along the film, he is another twin. The basement companions : Bilal, Couscous, Abdeslam, Mehdi, Mamadi, Chakib… I filmed them in 2003, and those images kept haunting me since then. I used some of them in « Demande à ton ombre » and « Chroniques équivoques ». I will use some others here, and old ones too. They offer a condensed and strong metaphore of confinement, desire, contradictions (a mix of despair and waste of energy) common to my entire generation. In the movie, I have strong difficulties to walk away from them. They remind me of the past, and who wouldn’t be affraid of burying it ? Anouar Benmalek A prominent writer, among the first to denounce the torture that occured during the events of october 1988. He is also «uncle » Anouar, who gave me the nickname « Buster Keaton » when I was little. I meet him in the film, so he can tell that story and also comment the events of october 88, and their impact on the algerian’s modern history evolution. People from the university’s student residence of Citeaux In the film, we learn that the narrator has spent his first year in Paris at the university’s student residence of Citeaux. We discover images he shot with a small JVC camera, and which will punctuate the second part of the movie. They witness his meeting with people coming from everywhere, french, polish, black, italian, arabic and even breton…! These images also give a background to the narrator’s experience in Paris. A little bit like the ones shot in the basement but in a less important way. Lionel and Claire Fictional characters. They serve a satirical speech on a specific conception of french culture… Lionel, with the character of a self- obsessed and contemptuous student at a film school. Claire, with the character of a young woman who is making an inventory of french literature, and who finally says : « I believe everybody should envy french literature », just before the audience realizes she’s talking to no one. The italian friends : Madda and Andrea With them, comes the memory of a gone friend, and with that, the idea of time passing by. Samir Fictional character. He is playing a man who feels uncomfortable with his image and who is upset because I filmed him. Fabien Another fictional character. He is playing the role of a man working for TV and who is asking me to make a film about immigration. This character is also used as a satire on stereotypes sometimes driven by people from the north around algerians. Akila Thanks to the questions I’m asking her about the obtention of a new red passeport (french passeport, adding to her algerian passeport), and thanks to the softness of her answers, she leads us to the end of the film. A mix of styles If the story has a start and an ending, the narration is non-linear and is made of various types of materials as interviews (discussions with my brother, moments shot on the spot in the basement, questions to my italian friends who witness the disappearance of a mutual friend…), thoughts (about different subjects like boredom, the time passing by, the position of different generations…), analyses (representation of the algerian’s black decade, of women in images…), scenes (dreams, discussions played with my brother…), times of contemplation in the parc, disgressions that bring breathing moments to the movie, etc. The timeline of the story is also not linear. The film often goes back to the past with a lot of flashbacks, to the point where the narrator finally understands time has been compressed in his memory : he is mixing the year 2003 (when he arrived in France) with 2007 (when he shot the images in the basement). Is it why a real care has been taken with the editing process ? Yes, I think quiet moments, parables, scenes, narrative and reflexive moments should articulate with a precise musical editing, in order to create a fluent narration. Finally if the materials are eclectic, it is the same about the styles, from lyricism to satire, from a reflexive attitude to spontaneity, from documentary to fiction. Following this idea, it is not suprising to see a various types of medias : photos, archive footage, HD images for present time, DV images for the past… There is something baroque about this eclectic mix, like a very colourful self-portrait. Autobiography or Self-portrait ? It is indeed a self-portrait, and not an autobiography. The difference ? The autobiography reveals the writer’s life in its most secret corners. Yet, I’ve tried here to talk about me through what unites me to others, and not what divides us. It is why other characters are so present in the film. We are also (mostly ?) made by the others, and the self-portrait must not be reduce to a writer’s monologue with himself, it is a dialogue with the audience. Two countries, two parts, two, two, two… one film. The number two might be the key figure of the movie. There are two parts. A first part about the narrator’s past in Algeria, and second one about his past and present in France. There is not one but two main characters. The narrator and his brother, who comes back all along in the film. The narrator is wandering around in a parc that is not clearly pictured, and could be described as a neutral space, while the story is taking place in two different countries : Algeria and France, between Paris and Alger ; and more precisely, between Alger’s undergrounds and Paris’ representations (the city itself is not filmed a lot). The narrator speaks two languages : arabic and french. The two languages intertwine in the voice-over to create a chant. This way of mixing languages is a characteristic of algerian speaking. Finally, the main character has a twin, who appears frequently in his dreams or nightmares to question him. He is not one, but two, and this until he answered all his questions. At the end of the journey, the twin will disappear, and the narrator will be as one again. One, like one film. Indeed, the film makes the link between the two parts, the main character and his twin. The movie unites. The colours Once again, two colours appear regularly. Red and green, which are on the algerian and french passeports. The narrator is wearing a red t-shirt, he is the red thread, but is wandering in a green field… However, there is also another symbolic of colours. In Alger, the character has a Manichean view of life, made of black and white. In France, he meets the « other », all the others, with all their colours. Then politics brings him back to a world in black and white. Shooting a film like writing a book As already explained, the movie is made of short sequences, as a mosaic is made of small pieces. To this metaphore on small pieces, I could add the small cameras. All the images of the film have been shot with small cameras (easily found in stores without going to a professional retailer). Camera mostly subjective but also objective sometimes. It became clear when I realized that, during the riots in Alger in january 2011, the police images put aside, the only images that have been shot were made thanks to small cameras and phones. They show the point of vue of people who directly took part of the fight. It’s about picking a side. Something that would ask : on which side of the barrier are you ? This observation encouraged me to « tinker » my film, like a writer would write a book. Of course, in the film the character is also writing a book, but the audience will never see the book itself ; which makes sense as the movie is the book ! That is because when the film is made with small cameras it has to be meticulously well prepared at a writing level. A close sight of the writing. There is no choice, the film depends on it. I am not a fervent defender of the « poor art » or of the « aesthetics of hunger» (these things are way too ideological for me), what I’m interested in is, developing a « cheap » look, an « easy to make » aesthetics. I was inspired by many filmmakers, and I owe them a lot. I will always remember my enthusiasm when I watched Chris Marker’s films, « Les glaneurs et la glaneuse » by Agnès Varda, Kiarostami’s films, « Mourir à trente ans » by Romain Goupil, or « Août » directed by Avi Mograbi. I immediately knew which family of directors I wanted to join, what kind of films I wanted to make. It matters to me that people might have the feeling they can make their own movie. Considering the difficulties algerian producers and directors have to make their films, this « other way » to do things might be encouraging. I have the feeling another culture can grow out of this, I don’t know which one yet (if it is not already the case).




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