Movie review: Mostefa Ben Boulaid

Mestafa Ben Boulaid, the film

I have finally managed to watch it. The movie is directed by Ahmed Rachedi and relates Mostefa Ben Boulaid‘s (played by Hacene Kechache) activist life.

The film starts with Ben Boulaid and his countrymen (in the Algerian 11th Regiment Riflemen) fighting in France against the Nazis, and returning injured to Algeria at the end of WWII. Then we’re taken to Batna to see his public and clandestine activities within the PPA and the OS. The film related the events before November 1st, 1954: the meetings of the 22, the discussions with Messali, and the final meeting of the 6 pictured while dissolving the CRUA, choosing the new organisation’s name (the FLN) and also the revolution’s starting day. Then Ben Boulaid is shown as the brave Moudjahid we know of, who leads his troops with intelligence while staying simple and humble. We see him go to Libya to buy some weapons, get arrested and tortured, plot the break out of the Koudia prison, and get back to his commanding position. The film ends with his death after trying to use a booby-trapped radio.

The movie shouldn’t be considered as a historical reference but it is interesting to see which historical “facts” were selected among the many rumours surrounding many of our revolution’s leaders’ lives and especially deaths.

The first fact was about Messali (played by the famous Slimane Benaissa) who is depicted as the now-admitted megalomaniac man who got blinded by the many years he spent as the leader of the Algerian nationalist movement, and by the Algerian people’s admiration. The fact he didn’t accept to lead the revolution just because it wasn’t his own decision (but some young men’s), and also when he asked Ben Boulaid “are you implying that I am disconnected from the people?” were interesting.

The movie also showed the hesitations of the 22 to launch the war. Strong arguments were held, and it was Souidani Boudjemaa’s that convinced everybody to go forward.

During the election of a coördinator for the CRUA, the movie chose the version which says that Ben Boulaid was elected but, as he was the one checking the votes, he hid it and read Boudiaf every time he saw his own name. This movie scene reminded me of today’s Algerian elections where people select names on their voting papers but different names win after the ballot. Of course, Ben Boulaid “cheated” so he wouldn’t become the leader whereas today our rulers cheat to stay in charge.

Talking of Boudiaf, I’ve heard often that he was a nervous man, but the way they depicted him (smoking non-stop, playing a lot with his hands, talking loudly and getting angry very quickly) surprised me. But I only know the 73-year-old man who came back to Algeria in 1992, so I can’t really tell.

Same comment on Krim with a character which had nothing to do with the national leader of the revolution I know of. Plus, he kept talking of the Kabyle people and he never mentioned Algeria as a whole. Something quite strange but I guess they wanted to send a message.

The film didn’t want to go through the problems inside the FLN/ALN, and Ben Boulaid only told Adjoul that he knew of the leadership issues in the East and that he would meet with the National leaders to fix them. The movie also selected the official version of a booby-trapped radio which would have been sent by the French army. The versions which say Adjoul trapped the radio because he wanted to remain the chief, or because he was ordered to kill Ben boulaid by Krim were discarded. But at the same time, they showed Adjoul backbiting Ben Boulaid, and also showed him leave the camp (because he had something to do) before the radio exploded.

Three very moving scenes were when in the Koudia Prison, the prisoners chose each a paper with a number which defined the order in which they’d escape. Those with the highest numbers were to go last and had therefore no chance of succeeding. The second scene was when Ben Boulaid met again with his sister and wife. And the third scene was in the prison again, a new prisoner (played by Mourad Khan) was brought in and the others didn’t trust him. He felt isolated and knew he was suspected of being a spy (and a traitor) so he started hitting his head against the wall.

All in all the movie was good and will probably be a useful vector in the mystification of our revolution, if still needed that is.

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6 thoughts on “Movie review: Mostefa Ben Boulaid

  1. I watched the movie lately. I was disappointed… it could have been far better than this. you see there were no beautiful, moving strong scenes you remember. War scenes were not good at all. The actor who played Larbi BenMhidi were not convincing. The 22 meeting was not …real.

    And yes the only moving scene were when Benboulaid met with his sister. Both actors played very well. The last scene was bof…boom and people screaming …I didn’t feel anything…I didn”t feel sorry he died… They definitely should have chosen another director.
    Cinema is an art take for example ” The battle of Algiers” . That is a masterpiece with scenes you cannot forget … for example when they show you Algerian being tortured you hear nothing only a sad music and there is that face and… one tear.
    And that’s it …beautiful!

    • Your fault my friend! You probably had high expectations and this is why you were disappointed.

      Exactly like with football, the only relatively acceptable movies in Algeria are co-produced by a European country, directed by a Franco-Algerian, and all the technical stuff (image, sound, etc.) taken care of by Europeans. And “the battle of Algiers ” is no exception.

      When almost everything is going wrong in a country, why would you expect one specific field to be spared? Or did you think Khalida Toumi was exceptional? 🙂

  2. He never met his wife. The scene was added to show the romantic side of my grandfather, which according to me, is a great caption for the watcher. All in all, the film might be seen as a didactic tool for the next generations in terms of history awareness.

    Charif Ben Boulaïd
    Mob: 0555 41 45 42

  3. I watched the film tonight on; until 3.15 after midnight, 25 Dec.2013. I found the political message and the humanity of this film impressive, just like the Battle of Algiers; this film was mostly shot like a documentary and had no intention of being an art film. I cannot comment on the historical accuracy of the film but like the Battle of Algiers what is most crucial in this film is its inspiring message, that how revolutionary anti-colonial forces are organized by ordinary men who believe in themselves and in their duty towards their fellowmen and despite their internal conflicts they move on and sacrifice their lives to bring about a change in the face of the forces of evil that utilize all their resources to crush them to continue the subjugation of their fellow countrymen.

    Like the Battle…, and Z, this film also reveals how the western forces justify their crimes and even claim to be for the good of those they have subjugated – don’t forget the murderous French forces had already left a legacy of mass murder in Vietnam and because of the uprising in Algeria had to give up Vietnam, they had murdered more than 6000 Vietnamese in one day in North Vietnam, shortly after WWII, in order to subjugate them again – yes the defenders of liberty, equality and fraternity!

    I admire this film and congratulate its director. In 2007 I was in Algiers, exploring the sites, looking at the names of the martyrs, so many streets named after them; climbing up the stairs in Casaba I could hardly hold back my tears where many Algerians had paid with their lives fighting the French occupiers. In a country like Algeria where one million gave their lives to gain their freedom and dignity such films should be valued based on their contribution to the collective memory and commemorations of the lives of men and women who died to defeat the forces of evil; beauty of scenes should not be the priority but the narrative and the film’s impact on Algeria’s younger generation. In a way the film is not about the past but about another future: Algerians are suffering, their children in poverty and oppressed while a minority elite and the military live a corrupt comfortable life. Thank you Mr Ahmed Rachedi.

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