Ensemble movie centers on the young adults of an isolated mountain village at the outbreak of World War II. The male protagonists have been to France, the colonial motherland, to work or to study; the women still live in a misogynistic
world of picturesque Biblical squalor. As the villagers await the inevitable conscription decree and typhus ravages their poor settlements, the strains between the timelessly old and the unsettlingly new inevitably arise.
Mokrane (Mohand Chabane), an educated diarist trying to analyze his parents’ traditional world, cannot resist marrying the gentle and generous Aazi (superbly played by the striking Djamila Amzal). When, after a few years, it becomes apparent that Aazi is barren, the elders of the village turn cruelly against her. Meanwhile, Menach (Abderrahmane Kamal), the unfortunate couple’s best
friend, has hopelessly fallen for rich married woman Davda (Samira Abtout); their dalliance, if discovered, would lead to certain death by stoning.
The problems of pic’s secondary characters are just as life-and-death. We see a destitute family sink deeper and deeper into debt, and the devastating effects of the petty corruption of local colonial officials. When a bardlike shepherd, a symbol of a simpler time, is mortally stricken with typhus, the men of the village prepare to go off to war, knowing that their world will be irrevocably changed.
“The Forgotten Hill” is at its strongest in its evocation of a world about to vanish. The women are all finely drawn characters, their lot as cooks and helpmates sympathetically portrayed. The details of an age-old way of life are lovingly reconstructed by Bouguermouh and lenser Rachid Merabtine, whether the women are preparing couscous for a wedding celebration or telling bedtime
stories to their children. The female costumes, donated by Kabyl mountain people for the cash-strapped production, are breathtakingly colorful.
Pic falters in its narrative line whenever the half-Westernized men take the stage. Although the characters are capably played by local Kabyls, far too much time is spent with the men as they lounge in mountain meadows getting into a funk about modernity. The rugged peaks of Algeria may form a spectacular
backdrop, but the conversations conducted there are as meandering as the valley streams far below.
For all its occasionally uneven tech credits, pic represents a noteworthy achievement. It is not often that a hitherto unknown and unsung people suddenly emerge out of obscurity for a full-feature treatment. Bouguermouh has done his fellow Kabyls a great service.