Yellow House

English Title: Yellow House

Original Title: La Maison jaune

Country of Origin: Algeria, France

Director: Amor Hakkar

Producer(s): Sarah Films

Screenplay: Amor Hakkar

Cinematographer: Nicholas Roche

Art Director: Amor Hakkar

Editor: Amor Hakkar, Lyonnel Garnier

Runtime: 87 minutes

Genre: Drama

Language: Berber (Chaoui dialect), Frenc

Starring/Cast: Aya Hamdi, Amor Hakkar, Tounès Ait-Ali

Year: 2007

Volume: African / Nigerian

Synopsis:

The first half of Yellow House deals with the impact of a farmer’s eldest son’s untimely death in an accident while serving in the police force and the father’s journey to Batna (Algeria) to identify and collect the mortal remains. The second half deals with husband Mouloud’s quixotic but dogged plan to bring the shattered life of his wife (Fatima, played by Tounès Ait-Ali) to normalcy with the help of his eldest daughter (Alya, played by Aya Hamdi) and of a video recording made by his son before his death.

Policemen, who have never met the farmer, help the man by providing him with a hazard light as he travels in the night on a three-wheeled farm tractor without headlights to bring his son's body home. Taxi drivers help him locate addresses in the city. An official at the morgue, instead of taking the farmer to task for ‘stealing’ his son's body, catches up with him on the highway and hands him the signed legal papers approving the body’s release. The farmer asks a pharmacist for some medicine to cure his wife’s depression, and the well-meaning pharmacist who has heard of a cure (painting the walls of his house yellow) shares that information with the farmer.


Critique:

This Algerian film is the director’s second feature. Taken to France by his parents at the age of 6 months, he only returned to Algeria briefly to bury his father in 2002.

The filming appears simple too: no flashy editing distracts the viewer, camera angles are unobtrusive, and the viewer's sensibilities are soothed by the delightful strains of evocative oudh (a string instrument) music. The oudh player Fayçal Salhi, who provided the music for the film, was present at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) 2008 to collect, on behalf of the Algerian director, the Special Jury Award. The movie had earlier won the top award at the Valencia film festival, the best actor award at the Osian (New Delhi) festival, three awards at the Locarno festival, the special jury prize at the Carthage festival, among other honours elsewhere.

Sociologically, the film criticizes the lack of electricity in some villages of the oil rich country and yet commends the quick remedial, intervention when lapses are brought to the notice of the Algerian government officials. The film is not about economic injustice or government apathy; even though these real issues are present in the backdrop. In the forefront of this wonderful film are issues that are more universal: strong family bonds between husband and wife, between father and children, dead and alive.

Directed, written, acted (playing the lead role of Mouloud) and co-edited by Amor Hakkar, The Yellow House will win hearts anywhere. It is humanistic, deceptively simple and uplifting. Having seen the French/Arabic/Berber language film, the viewer will leave with one thought – there is goodness in all of us, whether Algerian or a citizen of any other nation. The film underlines everything that is positive about the Muslim world in a charming way that is not didactic. Ordinary individuals, who could easily have been indifferent to a poor man, go out of their way to lend a helping hand to a man coping with grief.

What is remarkable about this film is the contribution of one man Amor Hakkar who acts, directs and edits a delightful film that does not criticize at any point what is wrong in society and yet presents a realistic canvas of Berbers in Algeria. There is criticism of the economic disparity in the film but it is latent. The film also silently underlines the important supportive roles of young girls in a Muslim family, rarely underlined in Arab films.



Hakkar’s film is one of the finest films to emerge from North Africa in recent years almost comparable to Mohamed Asli’s lovely 2004 Moroccan film, In Casablanca, Angels Don’t Fly, also about the Berber community. Hakkar has not just proved his mettle as a director but also as an interesting screenplay writer, who is capable of merging tragedy with low-key visual humour that never goes overboard. Hakkar’s dignified performance in the main role seems contagious—every other character in the film rises above petty minds to lend him a helping hand. The film’s screenplay underlines the need for all of us to tackle grief with courage and adopt a positive outlook at life’s continuity in all situations. It is a film that reiterates that one can attain the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow through dogged persistence in life, while being gentle and considerate to others.

Author of this review: Jugu Abraham