In Do You Remember Revolution (1998), Loredana Bianconi interviewed four Italian women, former members of the Red Brigades. Here, she presents four Belgian-Moroccan women who have chosen to lead lives that do not conform to their families’ hopes and expectations. Amina, Farida, Hayat and Madiha speak of the dreams their parents had for them, of dealing with leaving their countries, homes and families; of the latter’s reactions to their artistic ambitions; and of the consequences they initially suffered by breaking the taboo of being Muslim women and artists.

All four belonged to a culture that strongly condemns the public ‘exposure’ of women, and all were brought up within immigrant families that dreamt up careers for them as doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, or intellectuals. But these women chose to follow careers in art. They speak of the pain and also the rewards of their choice to live differently. Amina Bakkali, Farida Boujraf, Hayat N’Ciri and Madiha Figuigui – respectively writer, singer/musician, actress and singer – have all experienced the clash between their family’s traditional values and those of the country and society they have chosen to live in. In some way, this clash also represents the tension between what was ‘meant’ for them and what they truly desired.

These are the stories of their suffering, loss, detachment, homesickness, class and gender revolt, adaptation, alienation — and finally their questioning of, rather than their lamenting about, ‘identity troubles’. these portraits can be seen as sagas of liberation, as the expression of an idea of freedom (re)found through artistic expression. Still, these women also bear witness to the fact that choices are always made in concrete historical circumstances and under specific constraints, including those of a late capitalist, ‘rich’, western society. Thus, the life they choose has also been, and still is, as much of a necessity, a way of survival, of breathing. The way they speak – and the way they look at the camera – is often powerful, straightforward, candid; there’s a lot of humour too, which makes the film transgress strict socio-historic assumptions, singularising these four lives, delivering genuine portraits.

On a formal level, the documentary is strictly minimal: no music, no voice-off, no camera movements. Each character is viewed within a steady frame that includes only vague indications of the surroundings: a piano, an empty desk, canvases turned to the wall, a simple white cloth as backdrop. The camera jumps from one woman to another, occasionally breaking up their testimony and giving the viewer the impression that one big story is unfolding. La Vie Autrement was shot in 2004, the 40th anniversary of Moroccan immigration in Belgium. It is no coincidence that the four women Bianconi interviews are all turning, or have just turned, 40. They might be seen as symbolic representatives of an entire generation of Maghreb women, the one which Amina calls ‘the generation of changes’. They were the first to say no to their parents’ way of life, and to fully embrace the opportunity to explore their own potentials and desires.

(Steve Tallon)