The Daughter of Keltoum / La fille de Keltoum
Year of release: 2001
Directed by: Mehdi Charef
Belgium, France, Tunisia
The film tells the story of Railla, born in a remote village in Algeria and adopted by a Swiss couple shortly after her birth. Aged nineteen, the beautiful Railla is intent on finding her mother Keltoum in order to confront her about having abandoned her.
When she comes to her native village, a desolate, barren and primitive place, she finds her mute grandfather and her mentally disturbed aunt Nedjma there, whereas her mother Keltoum is working in a distant seaside resort and hardly ever visits. Railla decides to track down her mother, accompanied by her crazy aunt. En route, she discovers what an inhumane and uncivilized country contemporary Algeria is. Utterly disillusioned by the Algeria she encounters, Railla rejects her mentally disturbed but utterly devoted aunt, saying: ‘You remind me of the people here. I’m sick of them. Get lost! In my dreams the mountains were a paradise. Its inhabitants the princes’, but what she actually finds is an inhospitable country of savage natural beauty and a society in which women are oppressed, second class citizens. Railla’s rejection of her caring aunt is even more poignant since it turns out that she, rather than Keltoum, is actually Railla’s birth mother. Keltoum reveals this dark family secret: The family needed a pump in order to be able to access water in a deep well. To raise money for the pump, Ketoum sold her baby daughter. When the pump only brought up mud instead of water, she decided to buy a donkey to carry water from a distant well. With herself havinge become infertile, she made her sixteen-year-old sister Nedjma conceive a child. Keltoum took the baby girl away and sold her to buy the donkey. The trauma caused by Keltoum’s atrocious action resulted in the mother’s death, the father’s muteness and Nedjma’s mental disturbance. Everybody in the village knows about this secret that devastated the family but nobody ever dared speak about it.
Railla, relieved to find out that she had not been abandoned by Keltoum but that Nedjma is her real mother, happily embraces her, whereupon her aunt calls her by her birth name, Aisha. In voicing Aisha’s name (which means life) she remembers the trauma of the past and breaks the silence, which may give her a new lease of life. The revelation of the family secret also has a healing effect upon Railla inasmuch as it reassures her of the deep maternal love she thought she never had. But ultimately, the reunion with her mother and her motherland culminates in Railla’s realization that she has no desire to return to her roots. The film ends with Railla getting on the same bus that brought her to her village, but this time it leaves in the opposite direction, while Nedjma runs at superhuman speed alongside, heartbroken about losing her daughter a second time.