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Film Screening: Pépé le Moko

Artist Name



This is the first in a series of screenings of films selected by the artists in the exhibition Intervening Space:From The Intimate To The World. The films are from or related to Algeria and have inspired or informed the artists’ practices or specific works, and the screenings are curated by Yasmina Reggad and Ali MacGlip.

Pépé le Moko was selected by Algiers-based artist Amina Menia. It directly inspired her installation Sketches of Algiers 1, curated by Yasmina Reggad for aria and exhibited at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair last year. Menia is fascinated by the film, as the birthplace of a new genre, film noir, which made an indelible mark on the history of world cinema and which takes place in the Casbah of Algiers, almost. The film was in fact mainly shot in studios in France and Menia exposes the cinematic codes used by filmmaker Julien Duvivier in order to point out the conventions developed by colonial cinema.

The action of poetic realist masterpiece Pépé le Moko unfolds in the emblematic old Arab quarter of Algiers under French colonial rule. The Casbah and its colourful inhabitants permeate the film. It is amongst the Casbah’s winding streets and convivial hustlers that the anti-hero, Parisian gangster Pépé, played by Jean Gabin, is hiding out. He is under siege from the local police force, but as long as he stays in the labyrinthine and lawless Casbah he is safe. But he pines for his freedom and Paris and ennui leads him into the dangerous arms of a Parisian playgirl who tempts him out of the old city.

Pépé le Moko is one of the most influential films ever made, with its cool fatalistic hero providing an enduring template. The film was remade in Hollywood a year later as Algiers (1938) and aesthetically influenced Casablanca (1942).

Yasmina Reggad is London-based curator and writer, and aria Programme curator.
Ali MacGilp is a London-based curator, writer and art historian.

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