Mafrouza is a cycle of five films by Emmanuelle Demoris shot in Mafrouza, a neighborhood in Alexandria built by its inhabitants on the site and ruins of a Greco-Roman necropolis. Mafrouza tells the stories of several people from the neighborhood, and observes how their destinies change over the years. A couple searching for happiness, a humanistic grocer-sheik, a rogue-singer searching for freedom, a solitary person in flooded accommodation, a farmer and his bread oven, a rag-picker family, a young female wrestler. So many characters whose lives are like novels and whom the film discovers while ambling through the narrow streets.
Everyone seems to be carried along by an incredible life force, something like a crazy talent for happiness that defies the material conditions in which the people live in harsh Mafrouza. All have a tenacious humanity and demonstrate great and constantly inventive freedom of thought and expression. Even though they cobble together objects to adapt them to the necessities of survival, the people of Mafrouza transform their everyday life through playfulness and imagination. Hence a conjugal spat becomes a comedy, the construction of an oven becomes an epic event, and a political battle becomes a fable. Mafrouza weaves together a polyphonic chronicle of this world, showing its many facets during the five, totally autonomous, episodes of the cycle.
The duration of the cycle and of each film gives these stories their emotion and complexity. It allows us to truly enter into this world, by sharing events with the characters. It allows the time for a gaze to settle, even while continuously moving, a loving gaze but one which does not idealize, instead capturing the neighborhood's intense force through its complexities and contradictions. And we follow the movements of this gaze because the film allows us to share the filmmaker's experience and commitment by also telling the story of the encounter between Mafrouza's inhabitants and the person who came to film them. From the first encounters in 1999 until the end of shooting in 2004, we discover the evolution of this relationship and of its interactions, which question cinema and the way we look at others.
Mafrouza is an opportunity to demolish fixed ideas about the poverty-stricken, the Orient and Islam, but it also questions, by way of being a mirror, our own way of living and looking at things (in Europe or elsewhere). And it is by this reciprocity that it opens up a space where the spectator and the people of Mafrouza can meet.
(The five parts are in chronological order, but the cycle can be seen either in this order or each of the parts can be seen separately, or in whatever order the specator desires.)