Death of Ahmed Benaissa, monument of the Algerian theater

The actor Ahmed Benaïssa, during a rehearsal, July 20, 2015, at the Festival d'Avignon.

A deep voice and a recognizable face among a thousand. Ahmed Benaïssa, a major figure in Algerian theatre, television and cinema, died on Friday May 20 in Cannes, “devastated by uneasiness”, just a few hours before the presentation of his latest film, Goutte d’ordirected by Clément Cogitore.

In a message to the family of the deceased posted Friday on Facebook, the Algerian Minister of Culture and Arts, Soraya Mouloudji, regretted the loss of a « monument » of Algerian culture, which left “an indelible imprint on the world of Algerian cinema and theater”. The 78-year-old actor will be repatriated and buried in Algeria, the official APS news agency said, citing his son.

Born in 1944 in Algiers, Ahmed Benaïssa made his debut in the 1960s on the boards of Algerian theatres. A devouring passion for the stage that the actor and director was keen to share with the younger generations. Passionate about literature, he was behind the theater adaptation, in 2013, of the novel Nedjma, by the Algerian writer Kateb Yacine. The objective was to make the work more accessible by having it performed in dialectal Arabic by a troupe of mainly amateur actors. He wanted to come back “to the fundamentals of the Algerian National Theater [TNA]occupied since its nationalization by amateur actors”explained the actor, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the TNA, in 1963.

Icon of the seventh art

In nearly sixty years of career, Ahmed Benaissa has never stayed very far from the boards. Even during the years of civil war which saw opposition, from 1991 to 2002, the Algerian government to various Islamist groups. In 1995, during the worst hours of the “black decade”the actor had taken the direction of the regional theater of Sidi Bel Abbès, in the west of the country.

But it is above all for his roles in the cinema that the artist became known. He appeared in more than 120 productions, mostly Algerian and French. November Children, by director Moussa Haddad (1975), The Silence of the Ashesfirst film by Youcef Sahraoui (1975), Leïla or the others by Sid Ali Mazif (1977)… Ahmed Benaïssa had played roles in many successful films of the 1970s, a prosperous period of Algerian cinema, then in the 1980s, with Kahla ou Bayda, of Abderrahmane Bouguermouh, in which he had found another icon of the seventh Algerian art: the actress Chafia Boudraa, who died on Sunday May 22, at the age of 92.

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