In the words of the filmmaker and historian Ahmed Bouanani, it’s impossible to summarize Ahmed El Maânouni’s Alyam, Alyam. It’s a film about how things are done.
The submission to individual aspirations, the possession of one’s life, and the idea of extracting oneself from shared existence are all alien to the Moroccan family shown in Alyam, Alyam. The film was made in the spirit of bringing up a national audience, of creating images that decolonize perception, from which Moroccan viewers can learn to look at themselves and, consequently, as Bouanani writes, to judge the society in which they live. The form of Alyam, Alyam and Bouanani’s proclamation delineate a functional explanation of cinema, which identifies its meaning in the facilitation of a common, popular self-recognition, and that necessitates attention to one’s own social relationships in order to establish a relationship with the film itself. It’s educational art, but it doesn’t teach solidified preconceptions. Rather, the lessons fall into place in the moment the viewer appropriates them.
This process was hindered by the lack of distribution. El Maânouni’s had no access to the cinema space, and his lessons didn’t take shape for years. The lessons engaged with matters of urgency – Alyam, Alyam stages the representative generational conflict between a young peasant, Abdelwahed, who sees emigration as the only solution, and his family, who expect him to take responsibility for them after his father’s death. Abdelwahed refers to necessity; for him, emigration is not a desire, and the appeal of Western life isn’t gratification, but the minimum conditions to maintain life: less dust, less wind, less coughs, less xerodermia, less wounds on the palm. For his mother and grandfather, the family is one, it is inseparable; it’s one with its land and animals as well, which are not to be capitalised on for the advancement of individual plans. Abdelwahed’s intention doesn’t so much strike the family on account of its specificities. A more severe disturbance is rooted in his very consideration of independence, his imagination of new routes that replace the self-evident, integral continuity of inheritance, namely the inheritance of land, responsibility, and providence. Abdelwahed’s family understands religion in the most self-dissolving manner, in light of which a solitary effort to improve the conditions of life on the earthly world is irrelevant. They’re only here for a while to take care of God’s land, the prospect they look forward to is elsewhere.
El Maânouni observes a temporally and geographically distinctive phenomenon, but emphasizes the universal pain of this cessation. The motif of an ending culture in Alyam, Alyam doesn’t merely signify the knowledge about agriculture and the pre-industrialized living space, but also the way people think of themselves.
A particular composition depicting a debate between Abdelwahed, his mother, and his grandfather reoccurs in the film. It’s a deep-focus medium shot, recorded in celestial clarity; the mother and the grandfather find shelter in the shadow of the house while Abdelwahed sits under the sun. It’s exemplary to the images showing conversations. The film consists of numerous long talks but they are never separated from other activities or reduced to the dramaturgical use of verbalizing a situation. The conversations mostly take place during work like the spindling of wool, the forming of dough, the picking of potatoes. They are never about work, which is done with pristine routine, but if work requires greater focus the talking pauses. This element of distraction marks out the vitality of these scenes. The “actors” in Alyam, Alyam perform conversations in a living environment: while they’re in a dialogue, events take place, make noises, and leave traces behind. The people in the scene rarely look at each other; they contemplate, they are partially involved in the dialogue, partially in something else, work, fidgeting, the tumult in the backdrop or a sleeping relative in the same room. The long takes of Alyam, Alyam register the incidents that make a conversation imperfect and dynamic.
El Maânouni’s form of decolonization is not that of agitation but of observation and distance. Alyam, Alyam is an occasion to experience duration and the environment of creation, that of an argument and that of bread.