Continuing our run on reviews of French films set in Africa, this week we have Les Jours d’Avant, a short (47-minute) movie directed by Karim Moussaoui that takes place in a suburb of Algiers in 1994.
The movie starts from the point of view of Djaber (Medhi Ramdani), a disaffected teenager who becomes intrigued by the new girl at school, Yamina (Souhila Mallem). We follow him and his more ebullient friend Rafik (Mohammed Ghouli) as they make their desultory way around town, hanging out in front of the grocery store, daydreaming in classes and eyeing the girls in what seems like a secular, Westernized town, although traditional values still underpin family relationships. The story culminates at a party where he hopes to connect with Yamina.
The backdrop for his dull, ordinary life is the Algerian Civil War, which is just beginning to infiltrate the quiet suburb. One day Djaber sees a man shot to death, execution-style, right outside his building and later reflects that, as shocking as it was to see such a thing, only a couple of hours later he has forgotten about it.
The second half of the film tells the same story from Yamina’s point of view. She is the daughter of a policeman, who, as such, is a special target of Islamist rebels. This very pretty girl who reads Proust in her spare time both fears her father and fears for him.
Les Jours d’Avant is a quiet film about ordinary teenagers – sulky, bored, looking for excitement – who could be living anywhere, except for the menace of violence that hangs over their heads. It is a simple movie that makes no comment on the action but effectivly draws you in to the lives of the characters. While the ending is rather dissatisfying, overall I found it to be touching in its realistic evocation of a particular time and place, rather like a good short story.Favorite