Dernier Maquis: Union through Work and Islam
Matteo Mancini - 14/03/2009
Born in 1966 in Algeria, Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche arrived in France in 1968. He grew up in the town of Bosquets in Montfermeil, at Seine-Saint-Denis. After he completed his studies in Human Sciences (he graduated in Urban Anthropology), in 1999 he founded Sarrazink Productions out of necessity. In fact, the author had been refused several times. He directed Wesh Wesh Qu’est-ce qui se passe? In 2002 and was awarded the Prix Louis Delluc, and the Grand Prize at the Berlin Forum on new cinema. Then he directed Bled number one in 2006, another success that received the Prix de la Jeunesse at the Cannes Festival, in the section “Certain Regard”. In 2008, his third work Dernier Maquis was selected at the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs for the next rendez-vous on the Croisette.
In an agonising industrial area, Mao, a Muslim owner (played by director and co-scriptwriter Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche), heads a small business made up of a garage and a warehouse of red pallets. A group of workers, toil in the middle of these dizzying piles. In the garage there’s a mix of Europeans and French of North African origins, while in the pallet warehouse, there are North Africans and Africans from the Sahel, headed by the chief of the village. Except for some Europeans, these workers are all Muslim. And Mao decides to build a Mosque for them. This will be the turning point of the film.
Offered by the boss to his workers, the Mosque immediately becomes the bone of contention. A group of North African grease monkeys, working for the garage, protests against the owner’s decision to designate the Imam, on the grounds of a Koranic reverse discrimination that requires the assent of all the worshippers. Another group, mainly made up of African workers, whose job is even more unstable than their colleagues, doesn’t take part to the protest. The owner, a good Muslim, is ambivalent and makes you wonder whether he is acting disinterestedly or out of class interest aimed at controlling the religious sphere to better subdue his workers and any eventual social claim. This however, happens later on, once some workers of the rebel group start getting fired. That’s when the proletarians (the ones with precarious work) adopt the most efficient action against their employer, the chief weapon – the strike.
Thousands and thousands of red pallets form this “unexpected city”, where time has stopped, expanded. Time, in this film, resembles that of “dreams or nightmares”, explains Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche. The director likes to underline that the red colour present everywhere is strongly correlated to communism, it’s the colour “of people, revolution, anger and passion”.
But what is most interesting from a cinematic point of view, is the actors and the way they’re filmed. Aside from some professional actors, as for the director who plays the role of Mao, the group of workers roaming around the huge scarlet structures is actually made up of real workers. When the crew of Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche showed up, they reacted in a funny way. They started by laughing at them: “What! They cried out, they want to shoot a film here, in this rotten place?”. Then, as they followed the filming crew their derision turned into admiration which was then rapidly replaced by fraternisation. It’s precisely the interaction between the crew of Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche and the team of workers that makes this film lively and realistic, as well as the filming style. By letting the workers act freely, this movie flirts with the documentary genre.
A sensitive eye, a first-rate filming technique, Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche mixes topics efficiently: work, religion, politics, feelings… and depicts in Dernier Maquis the complexity of the daily life of this “disregarded proletarian multitude” united in work and Islam, “the religion of the outcasts”, to quote the words of the film director.