• Flash Competition



Amira Louadah

Under the uncompleted arch of a disused building, Amira Louadah gathers a group of sportsmen linked by the use of their fists, who call themselves “the 300 faction”, after Zac Snyder’s virilistic blockbuster. The sleek architecture of bare concrete pillars planted in the middle of the desert lends the site a certain sacredness, midway between Richard Serra’s monoliths and the dolmens of Stonehenge. The triviality of the boxing gloves and dirty t-shirts captured in close-up, however, competes with the Hollywoodian and mythological solemnity of the mineral landscape, opening onto a city in the distance. The film reveals nothing about these men, except that they are a team and share in the task of training their bodies. We salute Amira Louadah’s appropriation of cinema to subvert a prosaic space (a gym) and to reconfigure it, with a great economy of means, into a last refuge. At the heart of the story is a process of transposition, as the bodies of boxers become those of warriors. With just a few elements (music, different shot values, voice-overs), the director engenders a mutation of reality and builds a speculative dystopian fiction as brief as it is effective. Fateh, the coach, trains his men for a final battle against a faceless enemy. The Algeria of today becomes the theatre of a nightmarish world of tomorrow, described in two title cards, outlined in a few shots captured on a cell phone. In the hardness of the stones and the dusty landscape, The Ark condenses all the dramaturgy of the great stories of ecological and political collapse. The Algerian national flag raised in a final movement, propelled by the lyricism of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, floats in the equivocality of a symbol that can signify both unity and division, the end of an era, and recommencing.
(Claire Lasolle) Amira Louadah

Interview with Amira Louadah

La Grosse moula ou li michan – Histoire d’un paysage linguistique algérien (2021) was billed as a political documentary essay. The Ark, in its end-of-the-world setting, is more like a dystopia. What led you to this genre?

I met Fateh while I was taking photos of his garden made of odds and ends. Out of curiosity, he approached me and took me to see a place; the building site. He had taken it over to make a gym where all the objects had been made by him and his friends. Unlike other gyms that were inaccessible and unaffordable, the site was a place where local young people could take refuge and find a place to push themselves. The vision I had, the emotions it triggered in the presence of this community of people training, and the realities of Algeria at that time, solicited an inspiration as real and fantastical as the crossing. The water crisis and the series of fires that raged in Algeria that summer drove a group of men to murder a young man, wrongly accused of arson. This unremitting necessity to find a culprit, the enemy, guided the writing of this film.

Fateh Henttour gives an interview with someone off-screen and tells a story in voice-over. How did you imagine these different registers when writing the script?

When I closed my eyes, images emerged, marked by a world of war and violence, in a timeless place. I sketched these images and directed the lion’s share. But when we were filming, there was also the whole reality that seemed to take hold of my visualizations, enriching them in ways I could never have dreamed of before the shoot. There was a sincere belief in the power of defense and struggle against an enemy whose face seemed to be protean, in terms of what Fateh and the young people shared with me. Then I wrote the voice-over, which Fateh re-appropriated in own words and through her feelings.

Who are the young actors who make up the “300” group and how did you direct them?

The young people live in a housing estate near the building site. They are regulars at the gym and are called “The 300” in reference to the film of the same name. There are moments taken directly from reality in my film and others that are fictionalized. There are several scenes where the young people were very spontaneous. In other scenes, I gave them spatial and physical directions; I shared my views with them through drawings or by performing them myself.

The way the image is processed accentuates the impression of a heavy and arid atmosphere. What were your photographic choices?

I wanted to shoot in scope because I wanted to blur the boundary between fiction and reality. I wanted a frame that heightened the senses and made you feel cramped. I also had a visceral desire to film the bodies and the material as closely as possible. I also wanted to put some distance between the jagged, concrete architecture and the vast, dry landscapes.

Can you describe the work on the sound and the music at the end of the film, which is akin to a religious chant?

I thought that the religious chant transformed Fateh into a prophet – the harbinger of humanity – with whom we could identify ourselves and which echoed the question of the origin of evil. The flag we see is no longer just a patriotic flag, but a mirror of self reflection: who are we? Human beings, Algerians, foreigners, migrants? Does evil come from elsewhere? Or is it within us?

The Ark, more than a vessel for shelter, becomes a hideout for resistance. What significance does this political allegory have in contemporary Algeria?

The film operates through an economy of its narrative and its representation. I set it in the time of war, which is undefined. Some have taken it as a historical reading linked to colonization and the civil war of the 1990s, or a more contemporary reading, linked to global warming. I also liked to create audio and visual experiences in this film in which the spectators could project themselves.

Interview by Olivier Pierre

  • Flash Competition

Technical sheet

Algeria, France / 2022 / Colour / 10’

Original version : arabic algerian
Subtitles : french, english
Script : Louadah Amira
Photography : Brahim-Djelloul Nadjib
Editing : Arab Yacine, Amira Louadah
Sound : Khemici Assïa
Casting : Fateh Henttour

Production : Institut français d’Alger.

Filmography :
La grosse moula ou li michan, 2020
Dîner non newtonien, 2017.