Review: ‘Yema’

Algeria's fratricidal battle between the government and fundamentalists is played at the micro level in Djamila Sahraoui's three-hander "Yema."

Algeria’s fratricidal battle between the government and fundamentalists is played at the micro level in Djamila Sahraoui’s three-hander “Yema.” Designed as a Greek tragedy, the telegraphic story is set in a stunning landscape where a mother grieves for her soldier son, killed by Islamic insurgents affiliated with his brother. Beautifully lensed by Raphael O’Byrne (“The Portuguese Nun”), “Yema” (meaning “mother”) has all the trappings of the ancient classics, yet feels equally antiquated; it’s worthy without transcending a static iconicism. Minimal fest play will accompany streaming.

Like a grieving Virgin Mary, Ouardia (helmer-scripter Sahraoui, “Barakat!”) prepares her son Tarek’s body for burial. She’s confined to her home and environs by a one-handed guard (Samir Yahia), taking orders from his superior (Ali Zarif). Gradually it’s revealed that the superior is Ouardia’s younger son, a mujahideen fighter she blames for Tarek’s death. The younger brother also stole the elder’s wife, further embittering their disconsolate mother. Everyone is wounded emotionally and physically by the country’s conflicts, and only Ouardia’s dogged cultivation of her garden produces life from the parched soil. Visuals further the sense of an epic tale recounted on a human scale.

Yema

Algeria-France

Production

A Les Films d'Olivier, Neon Prods., Aarc, Onda production, with the participation of Fonds Sud Cinema, CNC. Produced by Mourad Zidi, Antonin Dedet. Directed, written by Djamila Sahraoui.

Crew

Camera (color), Raphael O'Byrne; editor, Catherine Gouze; music, Houria Aichi; production designer, Mourad Zidi; sound, Sebastien de Monchy; assistant director, Boris Vassallo. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Horizons), Sept., 2012. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Djamila Sahraoui, Samir Yahia, Ali Zarif, Nabil Oudihat. (Arabic dialogue)

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