The Woyingi Blog

Documentary Review: Seules by Bashir Bensaddek

Seules (Women Alone) is a French-language documentary directed by Emmy Award-winning Algerian Canadian director Bachir Bensaddek. Seules follows the lives of two Algerian women, Hafida and Fatiha, who chose to leave Algeria during the civil war in the hopes of finding a better life for their children in Montreal, Quebec.

However, by the end of the film, both have left Canada. Why?

Hip Hop Artist Rabah Ait Ouyahia shopping with his mother Hafida in Montreal

The film is narrated by hip hop artist Rabah Ait Ouyahia who is the son of Hafida.

Segments of the film are divided up along of Maslow’s Hierarchy Needs: The Need for the Basics of Life (Food, Air, etc), The Need for Security and Safety, the Need to be Loved and Belong, Self-Esteem, and Self-Actualization.

Because their need for security was not being met many Algerians chose to leave Algeria during the Algerian Civil War which began in 1991 when the Algerian government cancelled elections fearing that an Islamist party, the Islamic Salvation Front, was becoming too popular. A military coop and armed conflict with Islamist groups soon followed. Many educated Algerians chose to come to Quebec because they already spoke fluent French. But they found it difficult to find jobs in their fields as their previous education and experience were not recognized in Quebec.

Fatiha, a nurse and widow, chose to leave Algeria with her children because she feared for their safety. In her late forties, she decided to return to university in order to restudy nursing. But in Montreal she could only find part-time nursing jobs. At the end of the film, we see that she has been recruited by a Swiss agency to work in a hospital in Lausanne. She now works full-time and is well paid. She doesn’t regret having come to Canada because it gave her the opportunity to improve her nursing skills and get a well-paying job…in Switzerland!

However, Fatiha mentions earlier in the film that she feels like she has lost her children because while she was in Canada she didn’t have the ability to spend much time with them. She was too busy working and studying to even cook meals for them so during that time they mostly lived on take-out. We know that by the end of the film Fatiha’s need for self-esteem and self-actualization have been met but we wonder about her need to be loved and feel that she belongs.

For Hafida, immigrating to Canada eventually cost her her marriage. Her husband couldn’t find work in his field, became depressed and frustrated and eventually returned to Algeria and divorced Hafida, leaving her behind with their three children, Rabah, Siham and Mohamed. Hafida, who although educated and a fluent speaker of French had lived most of her life as a housewife, had to go to work to support herself and her children. She eventually became a qualified childcare worker and ran a daycare out of her home. 

By the end of the film, Hafida has returned to Algeria where she says she has time to live, something she didn’t have in Canada. She deeply regrets having immigrated to Canada. Two of her children, her daughter Siham and her son Mohamed (who does the music for the film), have decided to stay in Montreal.

In a fascinating discussion with her daughter Siham, in which Hafida tries to convince Siham that life would be fine for her in Algeria, Siham says that she wants to stay in Montreal because she wants to work and be a “business woman” something she believes is only possible for women in Algeria if they come from rich and well-connected families, whereas in Canada, a woman can come from nothing and still become a success: “You can come from Saint Michel (an ethnically diverse and lower-income neighbourhood in Montreal notorious for its street gangs…but also the home of Cirque Du Soleil) and end up in Westmount (a rich neighbourhood in Montreal),” she says. Siham tells her mother that she is so adamant about being financially independent of any man because she saw how Hafida suffered because she was financially dependant on her father.

We learn at the end of the film that Hafida’s son Rabah has decided to move back to Algeria. The film closes with Hafida presiding over Rabah’s wedding.

I would recommend the documentary Seules to anyone who wants to better understand the myriad ways in which Canada’s immigration system is failing immigrants and their families.

Rabah’s new life in Algeria should be a subject of a documentary on its own.

Rabah is a hip hop artist (under the stage name El Winner) and his group Latitude Nord is a child of the Montreal Hip Hop music scene. Their track Young Gun Killers (2002), in reference to the Columbine High School shootings, is a classic of Quebecois Hip Hop.

I first saw Rabah Ait Ouyahia in the 2001 Quebecois film Tar Angel (L´ange de goudron) directed by Denis Chouinard. Tar Angel is about an Algerian immigrant named Ahmed Kasmi (played by Zinedine Soualem) whose family fled the civil war in Algeria in order to make a better life in Montreal. The remarkable Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass, who has starred in such films as Paradise Now, The Nativity Story, and The Visitor, plays Ahmed’s wife. The family is finally about to get Canadian citizenship but Ahmed’s teenage son Hafid, played by Rabah Ait Ouyahia, goes into hiding because the police are searching for him after he’s been caught on tape freeing illegal immigrants who were about to be deported. Ahmed discovers that his son has become involved in a militant activist group and the only way to find him is with the help of Hafid’s Quebecois tattoo-artist girlfriend Hugette. At one point in the film, Ahmed is forced to drink alcohol by the atheist leader of the militant group Hafid is involved with in order to get information about his son’s whereabouts.

Further Reading:

Review of the film Tar Angel in The Globe and Mail