A lovely, elegant and stirring look at one man’s sometimes sturdy, sometimes wavering memories of being a fighter for Algeria’s liberation from French colonialism, Damien Ounouri’s “Fidai” marks a striking advance in Arabic documentary filmmaking. With his great-uncle, Mohamed El Hadi Benadouda, keeping his exploits secret from his family for the 50 years since Algerian independence, Ounouri’s artfully made movie — with Jia Zhang-ke’s XStream Pictures as co-producer and showing some of Jia’s filmic influence — is an act of personal liberation as well. Biz will be contained strictly to the fest circuit.
Beginning with a gentle prelude involving El Hadi’s family, including a cute brood of grandkids, Ounouri subtly builds an ingenious portrait as the old man proceeds to take him and his camera crew (including some of Jia’s regulars) to sites where the French military detained, tortured and executed rebels. Most dramatically and reflexively, El Hadi re-creates two of his assignments as an FLN mujahideen, killing men (played by Ounouri) deemed traitors by the FLN. Co-editors Mary Stephen and Matthieu Laclau (who also lensed) make a huge contribution, especially in a stunning montage of black-and-white footage of the bloody revolution.