RAMPARTS OF CLAY (Remparts d’argile)

(director/writer: Jean-Louis Bertuccelli; from the book Change at Shebika by Jean Duvignaud; cinematographer: Andréas Winding; editor: Francois Ceppi; cast: Leila Schenna (Rima, Young Woman), the inhabitants of the village of Tehouda, Algeria; Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jean-Louis Bertuccelli; Cinema 5 Distributing; 1971-France/Algeria-French and Arabic with English subtitles)

“A slow moving but rewarding documentary.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A slow moving but rewarding documentary by French director-writer-producer Jean-Louis Bertuccelli (“Paulina 1880″/”Docteur Françoise Gailland”). This rarely seen film offers an observant look at an alien and primitive existence in a remote North African (Algerian) village of Tehouda and their move for independence. It’s based on the book Change at Shebika by Jean Duvignaud. The beautifully realized rhythmical film, with hardly any dialogue (the squeaky sound of the rusty pump at the village well tells the viewer all they need to know about the hardships of village life), offers a realistic look at the village and a coming of age tale of a young villager named Rima (Leila Schenna) caught between traditionalism and modernism. She becomes the leader of the workers when they strike against the absentee big company that runs the salt mines. The story is fiction, but is filmed as a semi-documentary style with its nonprofessional cast.

When civilization begins to change the life of villagers in this remote North African location, rebellion mounts as the men strike for higher wages. The government’s response is to bring in the military. The director contrasts the dignity of the villagers, only interested in survival, and how they are hopelessly locked into their primitive past which keeps them down. It shows that there’s a price to pay for everything. The price paid for the benefits of civilization is the exploitation of the work force.

It’s a solid film that has slipped under the radar and is worth a look.

Ramparts of Clay Poster