Museo Reina Sofía and Documenta Madrid bring into focus Narimane Mari (Algeria, 1969) in this film series, which includes the international premiere of her latest film S'il etait une fois (If Once Upon a Time, 2023), three live music sessions, presentations of different films and a conversation with the artist and film-maker. It constitutes the first international retrospective on Mari after her participation in prestigious film festivals like Locarno, Toronto (TIFF), New York (NYFF), Viennale, Mar del Plata and Marseille (FID), and an array of international art museums and institutions, for instance The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, Centre Pompidou and documenta 14.
Mari’s films are distinguished by how they transcend the borders of documentary, experimental cinema and fiction, exploring our perception and film’s capacity to transform reality. They move through ideologies of power, such as European colonialism, Le fort des fous (Madmen’s Fort, 2017) and Loubia hamra (Bloody Beans, 2013), and personal stories, for instance the loss of a loved one in On a eu la journée bonsoir (We Had the Day Bonsoir, 2022). By and large, her work gives form to a type of cinematography that responds to an open process stretching beyond narrative stereotypes and granting us access to new forms of knowledge.
The title to the retrospective, Mejor ser que obedecer (It Is Better to Be than to Obey), is a verse by Antonin Artaud that Mari employs as a slogan in the film Loubia hamra, and which, equally, describes the aspiration for formal freedom and the search for new states of consciousness in her work as a whole. Thus, Mari shapes a filmic practice more akin to alternative theatre as she looks to analyse film’s capacity to produce meanings. Narration is always elliptical, the protagonists are non-professional actors who work with no script and the camera moves freely beyond hierarchies and repetitions. The music and soundscapes become central in this approach: on one side, they contribute to creating states of trance and hypnosis and, on the other, they introduce emotions that connect with invisible aspects of narration.
Mari belongs to a wave of artists who endeavour to rethink film not as representation, but as an event, believing in its capacity to reconnect our experience with images. In essence, as the film-maker puts it: “[…] I’ve only had one desire, to take a rest from the kind of cinema whose rules prevent discoveries. But also to continue my work on languages by going even further to find possible narratives through other means of perception”.