This adaptation of Arezki Mellal’s acclaimed novel ‘Now Let Them Come’ by Mellal and director Salem Brahimi is set during Algeria’s ‘black decade’, and tells the story of a family that must defend itself amidst an onslaught of violence between government forces and radical Islamists. It depicts, in confronting authenticity, the impact of a devastating war, and tells a story of love during troubled times.
The ’90s left a dark legacy in Algerian history, with the civil conflict claiming 200,000 lives. With this as a backdrop, Let Them Come adopts an intimate and personal focus – on middle-aged civil servant Nouredine (Amazigh Kateb). After marrying the beautiful Yasmina (Rachida Brakni), in a marriage arranged by his mother, he soon finds himself, like many other secular civilians, caught in the crossfire. His marriage is immediately impacted – he and Yasmina drift apart and she eventually flees their home, finding herself in trouble in a dangerous part of the city. After an exhausting search, a guilt-ridden Nouredine finds her and they re-unite, starting their marriage afresh with new-found commitment to care for and protect not only one another, but also the young children they bring into the world in the years to follow. Surrounded by violent turmoil, this is a haunting, and resonating depiction of a family – and in extension, a divided nation – in peril.
Covering an entire decade, Brahimi’s screenplay is remarkably efficient. Arguably too efficient, considering the loose connections between the plot threads. He challenges the audience to fill the gaps; a tough task if you’re unfamiliar with the history. Mellal’s novel must have impressive scope, and to analyse in 95 minutes the various complexities of Nouredine’s life, while addressing the growing civil unrest is certainly ambitious.
It is a neorealist-inspired docudrama with an unglamorous, street-level approach, prioritising character, atmosphere and authenticity. There are graphic representations of interpreted law and justice – as roving bands of extremists exert barbaric violence on the innocent. In the film’s truly devastating finale, the gravity of the oppression is realised in a final embrace. For a family simply trying to get along, and maintain a semblance of quality of life, the pressure is immense. Like other tenants Nouredine arranges to get bars installed on the windows of their apartment, but on the street he can only offer his body; a mortal instrument of protection, proven vulnerable by the assassination of his close colleagues.
In one of the film’s most quietly powerful sequences Nouredine helps his friend, a caretaker, cut rogue weeds out of some lawn by hand, with scissors. The lawnmower has broken down and unable to source parts for repair, the men do the work anyway. This speaks volumes for how these people tried to keep their lives as normal as possible. Even if the building had to eventually be abandoned, and the state of the lawn insignificant, they tried everything to ignore the growing threat and maintain normality and humanity.
Brahimi’s first narrative feature film finds an intimate subject to station us in for this sweeping historical document. The oppression of citizens during this time; an ever-present feeling of fear, and unpredictable bureaucracy, would have been a living hell. He builds tension, without explicit signposting. Details such as a delayed contractor, and a car threatening to break down, have potentially grave consequences. The score progressions serve as dreadful rumblings and perfectly complement these details.
By Andrew Buckle
Director: Salem Brahimi
Writer: Arezki Mellal, Salem Brahimi
Actors: Amazigh Kateb, Rachida Brakni, Farida Saboundji
Language: French, Arabic
Runtime: 95 minutes