ⓘ Jamila, the Algerian

Jamila, the Algerian

ⓘ Jamila, the Algerian

Jamila, the Algerian is a 1958 Egyptian historical film about one of the most important figures in the history of Algeria, Djamila Bouhired. The film was produced by Youssef Chahine and written by Abd al-Rahman, Ali al-Zarqani, and Naguib Mahfouz. The film is regarded as not only highlighting the story of an important female revolutionary, but also showing the struggle of the Algerian people against the French occupation.

Jamila, the Algerian is the first and only multimedia narrative to focus solely on the role of Algerian women in the 1954 revolution. The film was released only a year after the torture and arrest of Djamila Bouhired, and it was banned by the Algerian government for decades. Despite this, Chahines first explicitly political film managed to galvanize wide solidarity with the Algerian resistance from across the Arab World, starting in Egypt.


1. Plot

Jamila is a young Algerian woman living with her brother Hadi and uncle Mustafa in the Casbah neighborhood of Algiers during the French occupation of Algeria. as she sees the full extent of injustice, tyranny, and cruelty unleashed on her compatriots at the hands of the French soldiers. Although early on she questions whether her countrys resources truly belong to the people of Algeria, Jamilas nationalist spirit is truly awakened when she witnesses French forces invade her university and attempt to arrest her classmate Amina, due to her involvement with an Algerian resistance organization, before Amina commits suicide through ingesting poison. Soon after, prominent Algerian guerrilla leader Yusef takes refuge in her home, prompting further intrigue by Jamila. Only then does she realize that her uncle Mustafa is a part of this anti-colonial network of rebel fighters.

After insisting on joining the ranks of Algerian guerrilla fighters, her uncle connects her with the National Liberation Front FLN. A series of events illustrate Jamilas participation in militant operations against the French before she is eventually wounded and captured by the French Colonel Bejart. The majority of the remainder of the film focuses on the physical and psychological torture she endures for refusing to give the names of the other guerrilla fighters. Ultimately, despite the efforts of her French lawyer, Jamila is sentenced to death following her violent interrogation.


2. Cast

  • Ahmed Mazhar as Yusef
  • Salah Zulfikar as Azzam
  • Hussein Riyadh as Justice Habib
  • Mahmoud El-Meliguy as French Lawyer
  • Adly Kasseb as Leader of the Algerian Resistance
  • Farida Fahmy as Simone
  • Suleiman El-Jundi as Hadi Bouhired
  • Zahra Ela as Bou-Azza
  • Fakher as Mustafa Bouhired
  • Kariman as Hassiba
  • Magda as Jamila Bouhired
  • Rushdy Abaza as Colonel Bejart
  • Nadia al-Jundi as Mujahida Alia

3. Themes

While the 1966 film The Battle of Algiers, released four years after Chahines film, has received criticism for portraying a gendered iconography and misrepresentation of Algerian "mujahidat" female freedom fighter, Jamila, the Algerian is regarded as the first and only film to focus solely on the role of the women only mentioned in other multimedia projects. In fact, Djamila Bouhired is only one of three women briefly shown in The Battle of Algiers. Chahines film paints the Algerian struggle against French occupation through one of many lenses of its gendered narrative, focusing a large portion of the film around the rape and torture of Djamila Bouhired


4.1. Reception Support from Egyptian Government

The film was released during Egypts pan-Arab Nasserist era, when the culmination of pan-Arab sentiment allowed filmmakers like Chahine to take on large-scale production of projects that would positively portray revolutionary Arab leaders like Nasser. With the governments signing of the nonalignment pact of 1955, the Egyptian nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956, and the Algerian revolution, the context allowed Chahine to contribute to the cultivation of the indigenous Third Worldist, anti-colonial rhetoric displayed in the film.


4.2. Reception Banning of the film in Algeria

Despite the fact that the film was seminal to gathering support from other Arab countries against the French, the film was banned in Algeria both under French occupation and post-independence. Some believe this was due to Djamila Bouhireds marriage to French lawyer Jacques Verges, but others believe this was a tactic on the part of the Algerian government to further silence both the heroic role of women in the revolution and the highlighting of rape and torture in their narratives.

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