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“The house is on fire, might as well get warm” by Mouloud Ait Liotna: a bittersweet ode to Kabylie

It is hard not to let yourself get sucked in by the sublime landscapes of olive trees sitting under the gray sky or the foggy horizons at the end of a soggy road in this first film by Mouloud Ait Liotna, shown at the “Quinzaine des cinéastes” of the Cannes festival.

Photo DR.

This is the story of a young man who leaves his native Kabylie. It is told without ornaments nor superfluous words in the medium length film “The house is on fire, might as well get warm” (Axxam yargha; maqar anessahmu) by Mouloud Ait Liotna, which was recently picked up by the “Quinzaine des cinéastes” selection at Cannes. 

This is the first amazigh-speaking movie to be shown at the Cannes festival, which is an event in itself. 

“THe house is on fire, might as well get warm” is at once an hypnotic film and a testing one, putting forward a Kabylie being emptied of its children. 

There is no intrigue to speak of.  Spectators will have to make do with getting sucked in by the landscapes of olive trees sitting under the gray sky or the foggy horizons at the end of a soggy road. 

This is the backdrop against which evolves Yanis, played terrifically by Mehdi Ramdani, who prepares his suitcases and sorts out his last matters. He learns about the absurd death of Lounis, one of his buddies, which happened on an electric pole while he was trying to steal wires in the hopes of reselling them. 

His other childhood friend, whom he meets at the funeral and who is played by Mohamed Lefkir, dreams of a desert exile. Here, the music of Matoub Lounes plays during a bus ride, and chatter about judgment day happens as a joint is passed around. Before leaving the village, one doesn’t forget to get a bottle of olive oil. 

There is nothing tearful about the son leaving. The mother seems to be living it as an obvious outcome, the father with a certain detachment. As for Yanis, he ignores what awaits him in France, but he already knows what is “here”. 


In addition to Mehdi Ramdani, the cast includes Mohamed Lefkir and Idir Benaïbouche. The professional actors rub shoulders with non professionals but spectators don’t notice anything about it. We encounter some of the faces already seen in the movie “Argu” by Omar Belkacemi, which is having a little tour of Algerian theaters. Both movies were shot entirely in Berber, and both put forward a monotonous and austere existence, both show a poetic and surly Kabylie. 

Cinema nerds might see in this house on fire vague acquaintances with Bela Tarr. The director, on the other hand, identifies with Robert Bresson and Tarek Teguia. Here the sublime emerges from within, betting on the demanding shot compositions and the slow sequences, without ever resorting to the spectacular in order to make beauty burst. 

In the approach of Mouloud Ait Liotna (his real name is Mouloud Ouyahia), there is a sincerity and tenderness toward the characters and the village he filmed. Also, it can’t be avoided to wonder wether there is some autobiographical part by the young director who was born in Tazmalt (Bejaïa) and left it at the age of 18 to pursue philosophy and cinema studies in France. 

Financed by the French National Center of Cinema (CNC) and AFAC (Arab Fund for Arts and Culture), the film was shot last winter in the Ath Mellikech region in Bejaïa with the help of the production company Alpha-Tango (as an executive producer). Cinematography is the work of Jowan Le Besco – incidentally the brother of director Maïwenn -, sound was done by Hocine Mellal and the soundtrack was performed by Amazigh Kateb.