Thumps up to the celebrated Algerian director Merzak Allouache with his movie “The Rooftops”, for his wonderful depiction of Algeria’s busy capital Algiers about the lives of people on the empty roofs and its sheltering sky was perhaps my favorite film at the Bangalore International Film Festival 2013. This contemporary Arab cinema keeps us so exquisite with its lush Mediterranean sea on one side and the city of Algiers on the other and in between the chaotic locality, the rundown buildings, the construction sites, overcrowded market, the endless traffic jams, and we have the families trying to survive between the historic neighborhoods of Algerian Capital.
The film also attempt to characterize Algeria in the times of Arab revolution in neighboring Tunisia and Libya, and far from the people movement few summers back. Besides, this city of Algeria seeming to be unruffled and serene.
In the simple day in the life premise, the story is about the heart of people living in five different locale of the capital city-the five terraces of buildings situated in each of these neighborhoods. Five stories independent of each other, which intersperse and clang in the span of one day, from dawn until midnight, paced by the five calls to prayer coming from the city’s many mosques, five moments in the day and five stories to describe a society thought to be placid but which, in fact, is far from peace.
The film introduces the locale of Notre Dame d’Afrique quarter of the city. A man, Adlan, is water-tortured in the rooftop by two associates of Hamoud, the underworld don. Hamoud wants the man to sign some papers and he promises to set him free if he obeys him. The dispute over real estate deal, and respite being tortured, Adlan resist the goons unwilling to sign the papers. The documentary crew with a director and two technicians arrive to the same site for the new documentary film making, with a few high angle shots in the rooftop, the goons notice the crew and hide. In the later development, Adlan’s outburst and cry is heard by one of the crew member, as he follows the whole of construction site for the sound of the cry gets caught in the hands of the goon gang and is killed.
The second of the story follows in the rooftop of Bab el Oued. Here the family of homeless takes refuge in the broken rooftop of the apartment complex, the old woman is seen with her drug addict nephew Krimo and his hysteric mother Aicha. The old woman is sporadically threatened by the landlord who weighs and demands their eviction, but she is helpless. On one occasion he advances to throw their things out and is fatally handled by the drug addict boy.
The third of the story is the suburb of Casbah. The old man Uncle Larbi is locked & chained in a wooden cage on the rooftop. He is fed occasionally by a woman, Layla. The mad man tells Layla tales of the war of independence of Algeria with the French. As he narrates the story he becomes emotional, making loud sounds and eventually the woman has to resort to severe means to make him stop. He reaches the heights of emotion. In the evenings the same rooftop is taken over by an Islamic Jihad group who pretend to be conducting a prayer meeting.
The fourth of the story takes us to a rooftop at the suburb of Telemly- a small group of student band meets to practice for a musical program. Assia is the firebrand singer in the group, and in the very practice day in her rooftop, she gets irritated by the constant staring of a woman from an adjacent rooftop all day. The band does their practice with their usual fun and light interaction about their studies & romance. In the course of the day they are shocked by the beating of the woman by a man, supposed to be her husband. At the end of the day, the staring woman jumps from the rooftop committing suicide.
The final story shapes at Belcount on another rooftop. The alcoholic Halim rents out his rooftop squat to the needy. An aspiring boxer who works out on his heavy bag here bullies Halim like a servant. Halim rents out the inner space to Sheikh Lamine, a Sufi quack. The Sheikh occupies the space and is soon visited by a lady. Under the pretext that he is offering pastoral care to Fatiha, he is deriving enjoyment from the woman in the most unnatural way.
The films connects story between the chants of muezzin, the locus to the prayer five times a day, from dawn to midnight, is inimitably exciting. While the faithful are praying with full religious fervor, life flows uninterruptedly in various quarters of the city with all its receding tides. The story is predominantly based on the rooftops are a key contradicts, that creates a sensitive vibe and undercurrent throughout the film, and in all respect Allouache’ s film manifest the characters so intense with the wonderful touch of cinematic expression, both in its background score and visuals.
The plot shuttles slickly between stories and in the time of evening in the movie, the alternate shifts of five different stories stark to the composite unanimity, whether the old women, her nephew and half cracked women invites empathy and concern on their lives of homelessness in a present state of bother in the dwelling urbanization. The accidental killing of the landlord at the hands of the drug addict boy again and the old man covering up the case is something the director’s astute faith of goodness and the other one that resound the sensitive portrayal of woman wearing a hijab in a baffled state of mind committing suicide is very heartbreaking and so does the other three stories of Uncle Larbi’s caged story or the cruelty with which the tortured man and the film crew that reinforced by the bleak comedy or for that matter of Halim’s ambivalent conclusion when one of the building’s residents shows up to prepare the roof for his son’s wedding party – whose musicians ensure that the film’s closing number is buoyant with incongruous joy.
Algeira in so well captured in a very panoramic view. The disorder of Algeria’s present day is appropriately echoed in the meeting of the Islamic Jihad group that happens under the pretext of a prayer meeting. The insolence of the youth is superbly represented by the film director when he asks his cinematographer to avoid the Christian and Jewish cemeteries while panning over the city. She thinks that they are quite foreign places as far as a film on Algiers is concerned.
The Rooftops discourse numerous components of life and the existence of the people in the margins of the society and so are the affluent too, in their class and religious divide living under constant danger of insecurity and bewilderness in the tangible state of survival in a microcosm of society. Allouche’s new cinematic face looks for a broader world outside……
- Director: Merzak Allouache
- Producers: Merzak Allouache, Marianne Dumoulin, Jacques Bidou
- Production House: Baya Films, JBA Productions
- Cast: Adila Bendimerad, Nassima Bemhoub, Ahcene Benzerari, Aissa Chouat, Mourad Khen, Myriam Ait El Hadj, Akhram Djeghim, Amal Kateb
- Screenwriter: Merzak Allouache
- Director of photography: Frederic Derrien
- Editor: Sylvie Gadmer
- Running time of 91 minutes
- Language: Algerian, French
- Country: Algeria