War seen through eyes of children

Movies & Theatre

ALGERIAN writer/ director Narimane Mari wanted to explore the truth of life in her debut film Bloody Beans – in everything from the way the story was told to the way the film was shot.

As a result of her unique style the film has been coined an experimental movie in some circles and, although flattered by the acknowledgement, that’s not how Mari sees things.

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BATTLE SCARRED: A scene from Bloody Beans, a film by Algerian writer and director Narimane Mari, screened at the Durban International Film Festival.PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 12: Oupa Manyisa during the Nedbank Cup quarter final match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates at Loftus Stadium on April 12, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

Bloody Beans tells the story of the Algerian War of Independence, seen through the eyes of children. Tired of their staple meal of red beans, a group of children decide to raid the French barracks in search of oil, semolina, chocolate… and even a prisoner of war in the rush. But the war catches up with this beautiful adventure.

Mari shared with Tonight why she doesn’t think of her film as an experimental project and highlights her journey while creating the film with her young, amateur cast.

“Bloody Beans is not a documentary. I like to use reality and the truth of life, that’s why it may seem like a doccie. But when I worked with the children, I wanted them to live as they would, without me in their space… this is the ‘documentary part’, only because they are as they exist [in reality].”

Mari’s idea for this film came about at the time of the 50th anniversary of independence of Algeria from France. “I wanted to find a way, not to explain the war, but the freedom [brought about by it]. The children are the freedom… I wrote the film without [following] rules. I wrote and showed exactly what I wanted,” she explained.

The process involved no formalities like casting. “I found the children on the street and at the sea. I did not choose them. I just went up to them and asked them if they want to play with me,” she chuckles.

The young cast come from Bab el Oued and Bologhine, two Algiers neighbourhoods. About 40 children initially responded to Mari’s invitation. But by the end of film, she worked with eight youngsters who were motivated and saw the project through.

“We worked for two months together, trying to understand each other and to see how the children develop. We only worked for two hours a day because it also needed to be fun and not become tiresome.”

Mari coached the children while working through scenes with them. “When the children and their families and friends first saw the movie, it was the first time they had ever gone into a cinema. They were so happy and proud to see what they had produced.

“It wasn’t so much about the subject; it was about who they are. These children are from poor areas, as with a lot of children in Algeria, and in this movie, you can feel the power of Algerian children… Now they can look at this film and see what they are capable of, despite where they come from.

“I was afraid at first, because I touch on a difficult subject of people who died for our liberty. But my movie is from the eyes of the children. I was at first worried about what the parents would think, but they really understood. In fact, they said that’s exactly how they were when they were young. I think people want to see themselves and their stories… I made this film for people on the street,” she said.

In Europe people look at Bloody Beans as an experimental film because of the liberties Mari took in making the film. “I made this movie like the first movie that was ever made. I just asked myself, ‘what do I have to do to get the emotions of the matter across?’ I could write a film from my imagination, but I just want to explore the truth of life.”

Mari is already preparing her second feature, The Madmen’s Fort. The “enchanted opera” tells the tale of a ghost and is set in the desert in 1860.

“For this movie I’ll work in the south of Algeria, in the desert with the people there who want to work with me. The preparation is very different, the liberty and surprise of it all is very interesting… This is a fantastical film.”

Bloody Beans debuted at the Durban International Film Festival (Diff), which closes at the weekend. The film is scheduled to screen across Algeria in September.

• For more information on some of the remaining screenings at Diff, visit

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