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Director: Fatma Zohra Zamoum

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Algerian female filmmaker Fatma Zohra Zamoum visualizes the complexity of human relationships and freedom in her 2011 feature How Big Is Your Love? (Kedach ethabni). This topic seems to extend beyond the film’s interpersonal narratives to Algeria’s longstanding struggle with freedom, a country that did not gain independence until 1962. The film’s dialogue is mostly in Arabic, but interspersed with many French words and phrases, a reminder of the country’s history with France and the Algerian War of Independence.

The film follows Adel (Racim Zennadi), an 8-year-old boy, while he lives with his paternal grandparents during his parents’ separation. The film’s title refers to the growing relationship between Adel and his grandmother, Khadidja (Nadjia Debahi-Laaraf), as she allows him to partake in her everyday duties. The simple scenes in which the boy helps Khadidja make her grocery list, shop, cook, and take out of the trash are anything but boring due to the film’s style and editing. For example, bird’s eye views of common objects and the camera’s frequent emphasis on Adel’s gaze allow viewers to experience the commonplace as wondrous, as if through the eyes of a child. Amidst these scenes, the grandmother periodically extends her arms to the side, referring back to an earlier conversation about how much she loves her grandson. This natural form of familial love and comfort, however, is challenged as the film slowly explores the relationships between other family members.

"Bird's eye views of common objects and the camera's frequent emphasis on Adel's gaze allow viewers to experience the commonplace as wondrous"
“Bird’s eye views of common objects and the camera’s frequent emphasis on Adel’s gaze allow viewers to experience the commonplace as wondrous”

While Adel’s parents have little screen time, the film focuses on how their separation affects the boy, his grandparents, and his uncle. As Khadidja and her husband, Louní¨s (Abdelkader Tadjer), become accustomed to Adel’s presence, their concern for the boy’s wellbeing ultimately calls upon their regrets about their own son’s upbringing, prompting them to meddle in their son’s broken marriage. The boy’s uncle instead cares more for independence than family, as he had forgotten Adel’s name and refuses to get involved with his brother’s affairs. Adel, on the other hand, seems to be a constant reminder to the small family that without the necessary effort from those involved, even familial love will become lost over time.

After spending only a week or two with his grandparents, the boy begins to lose his curiosity and spirit, culminating in a depression caused fever that finally prompts his grandmother to rekindle Adel’s passion for animals. Animals are a recurring image in the film because Adel dreams of being a veterinarian. Throughout the film, Adel is forced to watch animals in caged environments – his grandfather’s bird collection and at the zoo – reflecting on themes of freedom and human intervention. The boy’s interactions and observation of animals ultimately resonates with our human desire for freedom, a sentiment that is especially evident in a scene in which Adel stands next to a caged Zebra with a matching striped shirt.

Overall, despite the simple narrative and its focus on the everyday, How Big Is Your Love? is a beautiful depiction of how children offer new and valuable perspectives on the human condition. The scenes featuring Adel and his grandmother are particularly memorable because Khadidja encourages her grandson’s dreams and freedom of choice, and Adel likewise convinces his grandmother to experience her own forms of freedom. While the film insightfully inquires into the lonely side of love and family, the relationship between Adel and his grandmother is heartwarming all the way through.

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