Yema by Djamila Sahraoui (Algeria 2012) What goes around comes around
Yema is a story of a motherland with a complicated and painful history. Yema (meaning Mother) has not always been fair to its children. The main character, played by the director herself (Djamila Sahraoui), is the pivot around which the film turns.
Yema is a grieving mother since her son, a policeman, is assassinated by Islamists. She refuses to forgive her other son, a mujahid she accuses of being a member of the group that killed his brother. Like a millennium tree, Yema is hanging onto her roots, her land. She is farming a piece of land in the mountain, trapped between two enemy territories. Her seed has been swept up by the wind, but she decides to start afresh.
Djamila Sahraoui surprises, even disturbs in her role of the main character. Except for her, the cast is a male one. As director as well as a character, she is the one to decides where they have to go and when they have to do it. Literally and figuratively, she is marking her territory, protecting it from men's madness. At the same time, this territory is too far from being a neutral one. Any external element wanting to enter must be a carrier of hope and vitality, or must follow a path of redemption. This is a cycle of renewal.
In order to mark out her territory, Djamila Sahraoui composes the frames of the film like a plan, with straight lines and basic geometric shapes. She plays with light and shadow in a way to intensify the symbolic meaning of the objects shown: a house, or fertile land, for example. She paints the image with the colours of the four elements. A variety of shades expresses the opposition of life to death, love to hate. As a director, Sahraoui is neither restrained nor excessive. As far as moments of silence go, every spoken word has the weight of necessity, adding information or bringing emotion. The slowness and lengthiness of some sequences, especially those where she is stubbornly and compulsively working the land, indicates that there is a process taking place, that patience and time, and sacrifice, are needed.
The tomato field she tirelessly works is her new battlefield following the death of her son. She decides to sow hope for a new life and a brighter future, in good faith: a future also represented by the baby, her grandson, whom she raises alone. It is only this kind of effort that can produce the right fruits, and when the land is worked by the wrong hands, the wind blows. Mother Nature gets angry and she reacts. Only Yema and the baby will survive the natural anger.
Yema ("Mother Nature", and Algeria) makes the sacrifice of a whole generation for the sake of her new inheritors, a generation for whom it's too late: ʺnothing can be done for themʺ, she says in the film. At the same time, she admits her responsibility in this complex situation when, in a climactic scene of confrontation, her mujahid son reminds her that she always preferred his brother.
Not everything is lost for this Yema Courage. She understands that what goes around comes around, that nothing is easy. Where there is death, there is birth and after pain comes relief. What matters is to have the strength to carry on, to let life triumph.
Narjes Torchani is an arts journalist working for the national daily newspaper La Presse in Tunisia. She is a member of the Tunisian Association for Film Criticism Promotion and of the African Federation of Film Critics (AFFC, Dakar). She also writes for www.africine.org.