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Late for My Mother's Funeral
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 Synopsis  “ Late for My Mother's Funeral ”  

Filmed in 3 countries over the course of 3 years, 
“Late for My Mother's Funeral” is the intimate 
portrait of an Algieran-French-Moroccan family 
adrift following the death of their mother Zineb, 
a notorious smuggler of gold and jewels.  
This true post-colonial story evokes with humor 
and pathos the multi-faceted mourning of 
Zineb's ten children and the influence of 
political context on their lives.

Some comments and reviews:  

TEWFIK FARES, French film director and screen writer:

An eye both aloof and attentive, with the kind of 
patience that engenders confidence in those who 
are not like us, but who, without knowing why, 
feel close to us and share their profound intimacy.  
The film expresses perfectly the heartbreak of 
the uprooted, even if life has brought them 
financial ease.  It movingly evokes the drama 
of not being able to live in an indisputable 
and undisputed “here,” while allowing the 
protagonists to pierce the abscess of their 
frustration and soul-searching induced by the 
stupidity of the human species, which too often 
forgets we are all “one.”
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Translation of program « Behind the Image,» with Guy Ménard and Pierre Pageau, Radio Centre-Ville, Montreal, August 30, 2013, on the occasion of the Montreal World Film Festival Late for My Mother's Funeral plays magically with genres, capturing the viewer in its imaginary world. Very powerful, the film is a panorama about a family, a people, a contemporary human condition : A family without a country, a family caught in a web of nationalities while identifying with none of them. They aren't really Algerian, or Moroccan, or French. Their identity lies in the grave with Zineb, their recently-deceased mother whom we are invited to imagine. The film brings Zineb to life, this woman of great determination and force, capable of resolving any problem, even deportation. Via an extraordinary intimacy we understand that Zineb was the source of identity for her ten stateless offspring, now adult. We watch them, behind closed doors, privy to their most intimate secrets, as they fabricate a new identity in Zineb's absence. The film's approach is that of a tale, a beautiful fable that invents, like a fantasy, ghosts and all. A fable of The Mother. As a man, I didn't realise my mother's importance when she was alive. Only when she died did I understand what I got from her. It's tremendous when we are offered this knowledge through a film ! It's a universal experience, it can happen to anyone, this shock. Organized around scenes developed through improvisation, the film portrays each of the offspring donning the mother's dress (even the man) to evoke telling scenes, many of them touching on stories never told – the tensions between Algeria and Morocco, the private life of Islam, the marrying off of the youngest daughter Souaad, all of this told with the force of the real, all of it beautifully presented, with great freedom of form. It is a strong, impressive film, which takes the time to put everything in place, and thus we grasp that everything is part of a larger construct, one that brings us back to ourselves. Via this family, we rediscover ourselves.
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Oregon (& Paris) filmmaker Penny Allen’s Late for My Mother’s Funeral DAVID MILHOLLAND © 2014 Penny Allen's 4th film follows in tracks laid by The Soldier’s Tale (2009), her documentary account of one man’s experience in George W’s Iraq War, hatched after an opportune conversation with a US soldier on a transatlantic flight. A screening of the film results in an encounter with Paris partisan Abdeljalil Zouhri, thoroughly embroiled in the twisted remnants of French post-imperial relations and their impacts on neighboring North African nations. After a year of less-than-engaging polemical talks, this man seemingly defined by the impersonal reveals to Allen the resounding impact of his mother’s sudden passing in Western Algeria. The massive absence in the wake of this powerful Moroccan-Algerian matriarch famed for her gold and jewel smuggling propels Allen into the creation of a familial portrait in the round and ethnographic adventure. One of ten adult offspring, Abdeljalil’s return to his estranged family thrusts him full blast into grief, intrigue, litanies of unfulfilled expectations, and each sibling’s ongoing obsession with Zineb Zouhri, their larger-than-life mother. The film begins in flight, as the family had swept, and been swept, repeatedly across the border separating Morocco and Algeria. Their rights in Algeria have always been thin and suspect. Zineb simply made her place in the world by practicing personal force majeure. Her enigmatic absence produces an existential crisis for several family members, which to astute viewers’ fortune plays out on the screen. Like the core cast of Allen’s first films Property (1978) and Paydirt (1981), a crisis precipitates linkage among ‘family’ members. Reverberant events largely spinning beyond anyone’s control sweep each of them far beyond their initial expectations. In My Mother’s Funeral, then again, Zineb or her vacuum might fittingly claim deft orchestration. Allen employs a simple, highly effective ‘device’ to give all eight of the ten siblings who play themselves a medium to serve, well, as their mother’s medium. Throughout the film, each in turn wears a strikingly patterned red dress they fondly remember as one of her favorites. Every time they don the garb, a virtually alchemical transformation takes place. Zineb has “really got a hold on” them. Such scenes often revive pent-up frustrations, including Abdeljalil playing Zineb opposite perhaps a nephew playing Abdeljalil as a boy. It reprises a childhood memory exposing her potent power and a grown man’s unyielding sense of inadequacy in his mother’s timeless presence. Late for My Mother’s Funeral darts between standard definitions of documentary and narrative fiction film. It’s the kind of stretching-the-boundaries film that another famed Northwesterner, photographer and filmmaker Edward Curtis, made with all-Kwakiutl cast – In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914). Alison Skinner of the American Museum of Natural History wrote to Curtis at the time, “I think you have made ethnology come alive.”7 No less can be said for Allen’s germinal work that opens real doors to a world at the edge of our consciousness. Much of it was filmed under severe restraints in Algeria, with powerful scenes also shot in Morocco and France. Like her peer’s work cited above, this film commands attention and deserves revisiting. Those infested with modern impatience might find that real life and even verisimilitude often take their own sweet time. So gear yourself down, linger in the hammam – community baths in the family residence, watch the wedding unfold over its several days, absorb some real grief and life transformation, and partake of what an Algerian critic wrote Penny Allen of Late for My Mother’s Funeral, calling it “the most intimate portrait of Algerian culture I’ve ever seen.” 7 excerpt - Short Nights...p. 239
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MICHKA GORKI, critic, filmmaker, former director of the French film school, FEMIS Beyond the story of Abdeljalil, 50, a Frenchman of Moroccan origin who grew up in Algeria and now returns to Algeria after the death of his mother, and beyond the fictional reconstitution of the recently-deceased mother's extraordinary personality, what interests me in this film is the universality of a crucial contemporary problem. Which is: the belief that mixed cultural identity is easy, even possible. It is an idealized concept that denies individual genetic heritage, that makes light of cultural up-rooting even when it comes by choice, that ignores the feelings of guilt experienced by individuals of all beliefs, that denies the profound legacy of colonialism or cultural imperialism. Despite his choices, Abdeljalil experiences a profound malaise, both in his cultural identity and his personal identity. The film conveys Abdeljalil's malaise through the reconstitution of his mother's personality via an original fictional concept: a DRESS worn one after the other by seven of the ten offspring, now adult, who have agreed to “play” their mother in a process of familial memory. Mixing their mourning with this interpretative fiction, a documentary emerges about the future of the youngest daughter, who will now be married off by her brothers and sisters according to an elaborate traditional ritual because the culture requires it. Thus all the siblings collide with their own cultural origins and traditional religious rites. What strikes me is the idea that the mother, whose portrait is created throughout the film, impresses me as a woman who has broken through the limitations of her culture: she has raised ten children by an absent man she finally divorces, she re-marries, she carries on a dangerous occupation as a jewel-smuggler to support her family, she launches a business with her youngest daughter, the one who will now be traditionally married off by her siblings after their mother's death. All the brothers and sisters have been educated thanks to the authority and charisma of their mother, but they still oblige this youngest daughter to marry. This mixture of influences and contradictory behaviors is fascinating and poses all sorts of questions. And it is this ambiguity that gives universality and profound interest to the film.
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ROGER PORTER, critic and professor: Penny Allen's sensuous film "Late for My Mother's Funeral" is a rapturous homage both to the world of contemporary Algeria, with its dazzling terra cotta colors, and to a family held together by the pervasively haunting "presence" of its recently deceased matriarch. Blending the personal stories of the many brothers and sisters who remember and enact the memory of their mother with the politics and social complexities of the Maghreb, Allen creates a deeply moving memory film. The mother appears only briefly, on her death bed, but she is everywhere in the narrative: in her limp and empty dress to which her son speaks to ask forgiveness for missing her funeral, addressing the mother as if her spirit and body still inhabited the garment; in the sisters who seem to reincarnate the mother; in her husband who cannot bathe in the hammam she owned without hearing her voice calling to him from beyond the grave; and in the son himself when he puts on his dead mother's dress and plays her role with his youngster cousin. The film veers between past and present, Paris and the small Algerian town where they all used to live, and most brilliantly in two scenes where mother and son cross the fraught frontier between Algeria and Morocco. Somewhat between a documentary and a fictional story acted by utterly convincing non-professionals, this film represents and inhabits many border crossings. It exquisitely portrays how figures enact their charisma deep inside others, surviving in those who can never abandon their individual and collective pasts.
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Willamette Week Former Portlander Penny Allen (the mastermind behind 1978’s Property, a documentary exploring local gentrification) is back with a scrappy, Mod Podge portrait of a French-Algerian-Moroccan family that scatters—both physically and spiritually—after the death of the mother, Zineb. The film floats between documentary and fictional dramatizations of the past, in which Zineb’s children literally take on the role of their deceased mother and re-enact memories from their childhoods. At one point, middle-aged son Abdeljalil dons traditional Moroccan women’s attire and carries on a conversation with a teenage boy portraying Abdeljalil himself. It’s a fascinating, Freudian and Psycho-esque exploration of the subjectivity of memory and personal interpretation. If you can keep up, Late for My Mother’s Funeralproves a deeply intimate meditation on family roots and cross-cultural identity.
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DAVID A. HOROWITZ , professor of U.S. Cultural History at Portland State University in Oregon, U.S.A. Author of A People’s Voice: A Populist Cultural History of Modern America (2008): In Late for My Mother’s Funeral, filmmaker Penny Allen returns to the way her earlier efforts Property, Pay Dirt, and The Soldier’s Tale addressed how ordinary people seek to negotiate the social, cultural, and political currents of their time. Defying standard categories, Allen’s work eagerly unites fictional and documentary styles to familiarize viewers with the internal lives and private reflections of her characters. In this case, she provides an intimate portrait of a middle-class Algerian family of Moroccan origin who must find their way through North Africa’s nationalist and ethnic rivalries and antagonisms. Learning the details of the story through a series of interviews with family members, we come to appreciate the postmodern view of nationality and even ethnicity as social constructs. It turns out that the consequences of migration and revolutionary nationalism have cut off several members of the family from citizenship in any nation. All of the film’s main characters maintain at least a cursory connection to Islam. At the same time, each is a francophone. As the story unfolds, we learn that some have migrated to France in search of work and the amenities of French culture and others hope to become French citizens. Still others, however, including the daughter who runs the family’s public bath enterprise, choose to remain in Algeria, the family’s home through a combination of historical accident and the sacrifices of their late mother. Penny Allen’s gift lies in letting her characters delineate the circumstances that have molded their lives. She accomplishes this without sentimentality, without pre-judgment, and without calling attention to herself as a filmmaker. The result leaves us with an incredibly penetrating view of the conflicting personalities that make up a closely-knit unit of people whose immediate circumstances may seem unique but whose interactions remind us of families in any setting or culture.
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Penny Allen Talks: Late For My Mother’s Funeral (2013) December 8th, 2013 by ANNE RICHARDSON • Penny Allen made her first feature film, Property (1977), in Portland’s Lair Hill neighborhood on a CETA grant. She made her third feature film, En retard pour l’enterrement de ma mère ( Late For My Mother’s Funeral) in Algeria, with French financing, a French crew, and a French speaking cast of non-professional Morrocan-Algerian-French actors. . The godmother of Portland independent filmmaking recently sat down to an email interview with Oregon Movies, A to Z. . Anne: You’ve made narrative films (Property, Paydirt) and a documentary (The Soldier’s Tale). Late For My Mother’s Funeral blurs narrative and documentary. How did this happen? Did the mixing begin to happen as you made the film, or was that present from the first moment of conception? . Penny: When it played at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Property was described as a film that appears to be a documentary but as it continues, the spectator realizes it is constructed and fully fictional. My third film The Soldier’s Tale has an essentially fictional segment which ends the film even though the beginning and middle parts are documentary. So the blurring of narrative fiction and documentary in Late for My Mother’s Funeral is a continuation, or further development, of my preference for mixing the two forms. This hybrid genre is the genre I feel comfortable in. . . The principal reason for working this way is that, for me, the mix corresponds to reality, which itself operates in a range from total fiction (imagination, or falsehood, or misrepresentation, or manipulation) to total documentary (such as what one might see on a hidden camera where nothing happens for hours). In the case of Late for My Mother’s Funeral, the two major characters were given the opportunity to speak directly to the camera for the change of perspective this offers to the spectator. To sort of tell you what is happening. This kind of scene is not really documentary or fiction but something else altogether. There is also an extract of a movie within my movie. I tend to use whatever I think works and try to make it seamless. . Anne: What drew you to this story? . Penny: I have lived in France for 22 years now, a country with a population that is 12% Muslim, the majority of which is Maghrebin (Algerian and Moroccan primarily). Algeria was part of France for 130 years, and the Algerian culture is very present in France today. There are probably as many variations on Algerian immigration as there are immigrants, of many generations by now, ranging from the happiest, most successful at expressing themselves, to the most oppressed and miserable. By luck, I have lived in neighborhoods — the 20th, the 14th, the 3rd, and now the 18th arrondissements of Paris — with large Maghrebin populations. My interest in their culture, history, and politics has been stoked for years. All this to say that it was natural for me to eventually think in terms of a story. . In the case of the particular story of Late for My Mother’s Funeral, the main character Abdeljalil came to a screening in Paris of The Soldier’s Tale and came up to me afterwards to ask me to make a movie about his story. So I was invited in. . . Anne: Were you already familiar with Arabic culture, and Arabic family structure, before you made this film, or if it was a discovery process for you, as you were making the film. To me, the film felt deeply anthropological, even though you were directing actors, and using the mother’s dress as a unifying motif. . Penny: An Algerian critic in Paris wrote that he thought the film was the most intimate portrait of Algerian culture he’d ever seen. If this is so, it’s thanks to the Zouhri family. The film is deeply anthropological, and the Zouhri family is the subject. The idea that came from outside the culture, from me, was that one of the sisters could wear the mother’s dress and play the mother. This is not part of their culture, but I thought doing this would get us started, and it did. . Anne: You said you spent three years making this film. What was that like?! . Penny: We filmed over the course of almost 3 years, about 9 weeks altogether, in order to follow the story as it evolved. We also edited and re-edited over the course of a year after that, making it almost 4 years. . I had been meeting in Paris with Abdeljalil Zouhri, the main character in the movie, about twice a month for at least a year, but without the intention of doing a movie. He wanted to talk about the relations and history between Algeria and Morocco. I listened, asked questions, filled a couple of notebooks. He also inspired me to read several books, including “The Harem and the Cousins,” by anthropologist Germaine Tillion. . . Then, when Abdeljalil’s mother died, and when I learned what a personality she had been, a gold and jewel smuggler raising 10 children alone, and when Abdeljalil revealed his own existential crisis in a very touching way, I wanted to do a movie. That was what he had been wanting all along, but it took an acute situation to get me started writing. . We went very soon to Macon, in Burgundy, where I met 6 of Abdeljalil’s sisters and brothers, most of whom he had not seen for years. They had been estranged. Soon after that, with Abdeljalil, a cameraman and a soundman, we left for Algeria for the first shoot. It was still not long after the death of the mother. The family’s mourning in the film is very new, very intense, very raw. It was in Algeria that for the first time I met Samira and Souaad, both of whom became important in the filming, particularly Souaad, whose own story later hi-jacked the movie, even though her story is of course related to the mother’s death and to the fact that her mother had been the center of her family’s universe during a turbulent period of history. . . It was important for me to be patient and to listen and learn a great deal, to follow clues that were offered, and to offer ideas of my own that corresponded to what was happening. It would never have been possible to start the movie any later after the mother’s death, because mourning does end usually, and conflicts forgotten during mourning once again rose to the surface. Now, for example, Abdeljalil has broken off contact with family members in Macon, as he had done before his mother’s death. I am still very much in contact with Abdeljalil and with Souaad, less so with the others, although I was invited to a family wedding recently, about 5 years after the mother’s death, and everyone treated me like a member of the family. . . Anne: The importance of the house in the narrative, and the almost claustrophobic focus on interpersonal relationships…. I felt I saw some similarities with Property. In both films, there is the sense that an embattled community has walled out the world. What do you make of these parallels? . Penny: In Algeria, the enormous family villa and hammam in the film is the space where now, without the queen, if all ten brothers and sisters were there together, it would be a miracle. When the mother reigned there, it was full of life and meaning. What the villa means now or in the future is part of what steers events in the film. The villa was also a fabulous and inspiring decor in which to shoot, with endless possibilities. And people came to the villa, so there was a constant flow of people inside or on the roof. This lead to an intensity of interactions. That is the way social life occurs in small-town western Algeria in general — inside or on the roof. Especially when there were all those sisters. And in a dynamic family, a lot happens when people come calling. Visitors are welcome. There is a lot of palavering and activity, especially on the roof. . Property shares one important thing with Late for My Mother’s Funeral, and that is having 8 main characters. I have often been interested in group interactions. In Property it seemed the characters really liked their community, but they had drifted there without the intent to wall themselves off. They were content to stay put. Property was more of a “chamber movie,” as critic Amos Vogel called it. . Anne: Thank you, Penny! Contact: Penny Allen allen.penny@wanadoo.fr Tel: 01 40 27 81 80 Portable: 06 48 32 31 90 website: http://www.pennyallen.info
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Penny Allen interview: Portland-born director of 'Property' 
visits town with her new film, 'Late for My Mother's Funeral'
Late for My Mother's Funeral.jpg
A scene from Penny Allen's film "Late for My Mother's Funeral,
" which screens Monday, December 16, at the Northwest Film Center. 
(Penny Allen Films)
Print Marc Mohan | Special to The Oregonian By Marc Mohan | 
Special to The Oregonian 

Before “Grimm,” before “Portlandia,” before "Drugstore Cowboy,
" there was Penny Allen. The Portland-born director made two 
independent feature films here, back before it was cool. 
“Property” (1979) followed the efforts of a batch of Northwest 
misfits to protect their homes from urban developers, while 
“Paydirt” (1981) was about vineyard owners who branch out into 
marijuana cultivation. Clearly, even then she had her eye on 
issues of great import to Oregonians.

But, after "Property" gave poet Walt Curtis, cinematographer 
Eric Edwards and then-sound engineer Gus Van Sant their first 
film credits, and after “Paydirt” played at the U.S. Film Festival 
(which later became the Sundance Film Festival), Allen wouldn’t 
make another film for a quarter century. Now she’s back in 
Portland to screen “Late for My Mother’s Funeral,” her newest 
project, on Monday, Dec. 16, at the Northwest Film Center. 
It’s a documentary-style chronicle of a large Moroccan family 
living in Algeria, coping with the death of their matriarch, 
who in her day was a notorious jewel smuggler.

I spoke with Allen by phone from Paris, as she was preparing to 
fly to the U.S. the following day. Questions and answers 
have been edited for length and clarity.
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Marc Mohan: What prompted you to leave Portland after 
“Paydirt” and what have you been up to since?

Penny Allen. In 1982 or 1983, I moved from Portland to a 
ranch outside of Sisters, and lived there until we moved 
to Paris in 1991. I usually come back to Portland at least 
once a year. It’s very dear to me, it’s my anchor. It’s a 
place where I get refreshed after having depleted myself 
in Paris. I still have a house in Portland, though it’s 
rented out. It’s the house where much of “Property” was shot.

MM: What changes have you noticed from these annual 
snapshot visits to Portland?

PA: The obsession with cuisine has only happened since 
I’ve been away. It is a fact that you eat better in Portland 
than you do in Paris. When I say that, people are shocked, 
but it’s true.

MM: Does it surprise you that Portland has acquired a 
certain cultural cachet in the last couple of decades?

PA: When I got started making “Property,” there was a 
large community of filmmakers who already existed, and 
I was a newcomer to that community. So it’s not surprising at all. 
It’s a good place to make movies.

MM: It must be! Once you left, in fact, you didn’t make 
another movie for 25 years, until “The Soldier’s Tale” (2007).



 
PA: When we moved to Central Oregon, it was to a pretty 
isolated place, where I not only didn’t want to make movies, 
but where it was unlikely to happen. When I moved to Paris, 
it struck me as impossible to penetrate the film community 
and actually become a filmmaker here. I worked for the French 
minister for the environment for several years, and then Sept. 
11 kind of wiped the environment off the screen for a while. 
So I translated books after that, and I was writing. Then in 
2004 I got back into filmmaking by accident. I was sitting 
in a plane on the tarmac at the Paris airport and this soldier 
sat down next to me and started talking in this hysterical mode. 
That was the beginning of “The Soldier’s Tale.”

MM: How did you meet the family you film in 
“Late for My Mother’s Funeral?”

PA: The main character of the movie, Abdeljalil, came to a 
screening of “The Soldier’s Tale” in Paris and asked me 
afterwards if I would make a film about him having been 
deported from Algeria to Morocco. I was not particularly 
interested in doing that, but I did meet with him regularly. 
And then his mother, who he’d never mentioned previously at all, 
died, and he changed. He had an existential crisis and was 
wracked with guilt over not having seen his mother in 12 years, 
and convinced me to follow him home and film her funeral. 
So I didn’t recruit them, they recruited me.

MM: The movie feels like a documentary, but has scenes of 
reenactment, and you use words like “character” to describe the 
people in it. One a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is total fiction 
and 10 is total truth, where does it lie?

PA: The film is very definitely a hybrid, quite intentionally. 
I came up with the idea of the scenes where the children wear 
the mother’s dress and re-enact quite early, and those are fiction. 
This hybrid between fiction and nonfiction is something I’m 
interested in; I think even “Property” has some of that.

PA: I don’t mean to pry, but I’m still curious why you left 
Portland for this ranch near Sisters and abandoned what seemed 
like a promising filmmaking career.

PA: Love! It was a love story. And it’s not prying — I wrote a 
book about it. It’s called “A Geography of Saints.” It deals 
with life in Sisters, focused around the shocking events that 
happened our first year there, including murders and a few 
other things.

MM: Sounds like it would make a good movie.
For French click here
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