“Every image was filmed to hit you like a fist,” (Djouhra Abouda, in conversation with Guy Hennebelle, “Cinemaction”, n. 8, Summer 1979) in this experimental, political and radical film about the experience of immigrant workers in France in the mid-1970s.
Ali au pays des merveilles (in English, Ali in Wonderland) by Abouda and Bonnamy calls out the exploitation and racism it unflinchingly ascribes to the French state, the media, capitalism and colonisation in a system of domination that grinds down of those subjected to it.
Shot in 16mm, the film combines a formal and aesthetic inventiveness with a powerful militant purpose, through the direct dialogue of marginalised people. “I have explored the everyday actions of migrant workers through a magnifying glass,” says Djouhra Abouda (Tahar Ben Jelloun, Djouhra et ‘Ali au pays des merveilles’, “Le Monde”, 3 January 1977). It took a year of location scouting and research (she reels off a long list of racist crimes from around 1975), as well as painstakingly detailed cinematic effects (jerky shots, distortion, double exposure, time gaps, images in slow and fast motion). Images composed and set to music by Djamel Allam transport us from the realm of documentary to ballet (featuring refuse collection), musical comedy (highlighting weather, hardship and usury), and even fantasy (with superimposed faces on the gravestones of soldiers who died defending France between 1914 and 1918). The film also gives a voice to the forgotten ones: women, hitherto largely absent from films and documents about the struggles of migrant workers.
The film was forgotten and remained invisible, a victim of its non-conformity with the two opposing currents of the day: interventionist (or militant) and experimental cinema, whose contours it had crashed.
After this film, Abouda and Bonnamy abandoned cinema for other forms of expression. Alain Bonnamy, who was born in 1947, is an architect and photographer. Djoudra Abouda, who was born in Algeria in 1949 and arrived in France with her family in 1956, is known today as Djura, after Djurdjura, the Kabyle protest band she started in the late 1970s in support of women’s rights.
Cast and Credits
Scen., F., M., Prod.: Djouhra Abouda, Alain Bonnamy. Mus.: Djamel Allam. DCP. Col.
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