This short film is a rousing coming of age story about a Saharawi girl called Mariam, who lives in a Western Saharan refugee camp in Tindouf, Algeria. As a young woman, she is expected to remain in the camp and raise children there, but Mariam’s ambition is to serve in the Special Forces alongside men, helping to liberate her country from Moroccan occupation.
Mariam is not afraid to question authority or stand up for herself. She plays football, fights boys, vents her anger, and determinedly takes up space. The camera accentuates each of her gestures, illuminating her wilful temperament. The close attention given to the sound of her footsteps conveys her urge to move. When I asked Imanishi about this, she described the sound of Mariam’s footsteps as ‘her vehicle, and mine, through which to express a depth in our sense of purpose and belonging’.
Once she has joined the soldiers in the desert, a spectacular shot occurs showing Mariam thrashing a stick on the ground, to which the soldiers respond, moving to the rhythm of her beat. Mariam lets out a scream, but the sound of her voice is muted. The silent pulse of her battle cry that exceeds the limits of audibility transforms the film into a luminous vibration. For Imanishi, Mariam’s silent scream constitutes ‘all the anger of defeat and energy of optimism clashing within her, and symbolic of the silent standstill the Saharawis find themselves in.’ Her isolated, silent scream transforms into a plural cry for freedom when the voice of Saharawi singer Mariem Hassan enters, whose ‘La Tumchu Anni’ accompanies the closing credits.
Imanishi wanted the film to articulate the impossible choice faced by young Saharawi people between war or remaining a refugee. She wanted to express their frustration towards the injustices suffered by the Saharawi people. Mariam is a strong-minded, optimistic leader who doesn’t need to be ‘saved’ or protected by men. Imanishi’s representation of a fearless, risk-taking young woman in the context of conflict boldly undermines essentialist notions of gender that are entwined with negative stereotypes, perpetuated by western media, of helpless refugee women, who are without any personal or political agency.
Albertine Fox is a Lecturer in French Film at Bristol University in the UK. She convenes and teaches an undergraduate unit on ‘Francophone Women Directors: Documentary Filmmaking’, and she is currently working on a book project on listening and filmed interviews in French and Francophone documentaries.