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TORONTO 2017 Wavelengths

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Le Fort des fous: A history of violence


- TORONTO 2017: Algerian director Narimane Mari has crafted a sociopolitical essay film addressing the diffusion of violence from Eurocentric colonialism to the present-day economic crisis

Le Fort des fous: A history of violence

“Peace is only for those who feel safe,” declares one of the characters in this new and disturbing politically charged essay film from Algerian filmmaker Narimane Mari. Just as it did a month ago at the film’s premiere in Locarno, this statement (among many other pieces of bellicose rhetoric displayed on title cards throughout) succeeded in shaking up the pacifistic consciousness of the audience attending its first North American screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. Despite its combative tone, Le Fort des fous [+see also:
film profile
does not set out to subject the viewer to an emotional battering, but rather invites us to reflect on the cycles of violence that have repeated themselves (and continue to repeat themselves) throughout the annals of history. 

For Narimane Mari, memory is an act of creation in which we are all active participants. To draw upon memory is not simply to recall facts, but to give new form to the events of the past. Accordingly, in the first section of the film the director imparts a kind of contemporary re-appropriation and re-presentation of a specific period in this history of violence: the French colonial venture in North Africa. In Mari’s words, the re-appropriation of history can serve to rekindle memory. In the film’s first third, shot in the same magical, anti-realist style that marked her superb debut, Bloody Beans [+see also:
film profile
, we watch as a group of adolescent Algerians act out the roles of the patriotic French cadets — images that Mari alternately ennobles and besmirches, according to her own whim. The director intersperses solemn tableaux vivants in which the soldiers resemble figures from a mural by Delacroix with comic scenes where they seem to dance or pose for selfies in the Charles de Gaulle’s Algerian mansion.

The second and third sections of Le Fort des fous bring us back to the present day — specifically, to a fractious Greece which in 2017 has not yet managed to haul itself out of economic crisis. It is in the second chapter of this sociopolitical satire that we meet the nomadic guardians of a utopian society, stationed on the paradisiacal island of Kythira. This band of visionaries, however, does not exist outside of Mari’s work. It’s yet another game of mirrors evoking the re-appropriation of memory (in this case, of the immediate present) that prevents us from distinguishing between fiction and documentary reality. Ultimately, the most overtly militaristic exposition is reserved for the film’s epilogue, where the antihero, a Greek activist, urges us to take up arms to vanquish the economic crisis.

Le Fort des fous was produced by Allers Retours Films (Algeria), Centrale électrique (France), Blonde Audiovisual Productions (Greece), Joon film (Germany) and Xenia Film (France).

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