July 25, 2021

Chez Malika, a timeless haven between Algiers and Tamanrasset


After the splendid and very noticed In my head a roundabout (2015), who filmed the daily life of slaughterhouse employees in Algiers, Algerian filmmaker Hassen Ferhani resumes his attempt to exhaust a place with his new documentary, 143, rue du Désert. Soit the address of Malika, 74 years old, owner of a refreshment bar located in the middle of the Sahara where stop, the time of a meal, a cigarette and a tea, those who traverse the Nationale 1 connecting Algiers to Tamanrasset, a city in the far south of the Sahara. For truck drivers accustomed to using it, Malika is an institution, a familiar face planted in the middle of an arid nowhere, and that one of them nicknamed “The guardian of the void”.

Read the review of “Dans ma tête un rond-point”: In Algiers, the butchers have nothing but love in their mouths

In this closed door to the immensity, Malika becomes a witness, involuntary but always curious, of the lives of her clients: one who can no longer make a living from his profession, the other party in search of his missing brother. , or even this mysterious tourist who crisscrosses the roads alone on her motorcycle. The language barrier does not prevent these two women from coming to understand each other (sometimes Hassen Ferhani intervenes to translate the words of the other to one) even in the silences. The scene returns like a rhyme: a client is seated next to the old lady, they are both looking at the horizon, and suddenly, without any discomfort being felt, forget to speak. Malika or this splendid prisoner of the desert whom we cherish as much for her quality of listening as for the nonchalance mixed with irony of her gaze on the world and on herself, or for the depth of her silence, which acts like a rest.

Metaphysical expectation

These moments of stasis are the price of 143, rue du Désert, because Hassen Ferhani manages, through the rigor of his framing and editing, to restore their intensity, their vibration – there is no doubt that the documentary filmmaker thought of John Ford by gorging his film with overframes and filming this woman caught in a metaphysical expectation, of that expectation which demands nothing, which appears to us here as the highest form of existence.

Hassen Ferhani always exceeds the materiality of a place to transform it into a theater where each visitor opens a new act, in camera obscura which projects the contours of a life, of a group, of a people – the off-screen does not cease to load as we advance. The contours, above all, of a woman’s life which is told in snatches, and which lets glimpse, in the course of an innocuous conversation, the geological thickness of an existence. Under the gaze of the filmmaker, Malika transforms, alternately prisoner, guardian of the desert, surrogate mother, improvised shrink, little girl, great sage attached to nothing, except her two dogs and her cat. Bruised and unsinkable woman, but definitely mythological. And 143, rue du Désert to leave an unforgettable imprint, that of a fiction that one would have dreamed of.

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