“It’s better to die as a Fidaï than a man of the people,” says Med El Hadi Benadouda on his life as one of the mujahideen soldiers whose goal it was to free Algeria from over a century of French imperialism and repression.
His family knew little about his life as a veteran before his great-nephew Damien Ounouri found a newspaper from 1962 revealing why he was in prison and wanted by police. At the age of 19 El Hadi moved to France and joined the armed wing of the National Liberation Front (FLN) to “weaken the military potential of the enemy and keep their armies out of Algeria.” It was a clandestine group designed to “punish traitors” and “fight oppression.”
It is the account of life under French rule and as a fighter that Ounouri captures in Fidaï, a documentary set to be screened this Friday as part of the Shubbak Festival in London. The story follows the two as they visit various sites which were occupied by the French forces and used as prisons for torturing and executing Algerians to extract information about the mujahideen. “My heart is still angry against the army. As the French would say, I hold a grudge” says El Hadi.
As part of the FLN the first person El Hadi was ordered to assassinate was Hadj Fassi, the leader of the Algerian National Movement (MNA), the opposition. With a gun holding only one bullet he tailed Fassi for four days to scrutinise his movements and planned a getaway on his moped. Neither was this operation successful, nor was it the last target allocated to him. Together he and Ounouri re-enact his missions, revisiting the places where he settled scores with men considered traitors by the FLN.
Ounouri’s documentary strikes a balance between informing an audience about a relatively undocumented piece of history, told with a human, personal element. He has woven black and white footage of the revolution into the digital video used for the film, which brings to life El Hadi’s memories. At times the language is poetic and the cinematography is beautiful; the film and its story are fascinating but in some parts too slow.
Throughout Fidaï, El Hadi has sad eyes. Perhaps he is recalling the pain of living under colonisation, of being deported from France, that he left everything behind to join the revolution or perhaps he regrets his missions that ended another human life. “I was wondering does it bother you to have killed another man?” says Ounouri to his great-uncle as the documentary draws to a close.
Fidaï is screening at the Institut Francais on Friday 5 July as part of Shubbak Festival