What the day owes to the night, from the novel to the film

The boundaries between art and literature are blurring more and more, the adaptation of world-famous literary works into films is increasingly emerging in cinema and the examples are numerous: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (2005), Les miserables by Victor Hugo (2012), Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (2015) etc. A look back at the adaptation of the international best-seller What the day owes to the night (2012) by Yasmina Khadra, crowned France Télévisions 2008 novel award.

Inspired by real events, the film adapted by Alexandre arcady immerses us in Algeria from the 30s to the 60s during the Algerian War of Independence and follows the story of impossible love between Younes, a young Algerian raised like a pied-noir by his uncle and the beautiful Emilie, a young French that capsizes all hearts.

Still from the film WHAT THE DAY IS NIGHT
© Orange Studio

Torn between two cultures and the promise that Younes made to Émilie’s mother, the romantic drama transports the viewer into a moving, poignant and tumultuous story. But much more than an impossible love story between an Algerian and a French woman, the film highlights the heartbreak of two peoples who have cherished the same land together for more than a century. Everything is transposed with a beautiful staging and a memorable soundtrack.

A poetic story, the novel immerses us in an atmosphere that is sometimes sad, sometimes cheerful, sometimes light, sometimes dramatic with a sober, bewitching writing style, where Younes the narrator delivers in the first person the smallest details of his existence to Oran, then in Rio Salado by retracing all the happy, tragic, nostalgic, violent events that transcend his being.

Likewise, the story of the film is told from Younes’ perspective. Throughout the film, there is a voiceover that communicates the thoughts of the main character. We also find most of the characters appearing in the novel and we notice that the director tried to recreate as faithfully as possible the spaces and the settings of the streets of the 1930s. The question of mixed unions and the impact of the difference in cultures and religions on relationships is also quite present in the novel and the film. For example, we find sequences where Madeleine says to Younes “Do you know what it is for a Catholic to love a Muslim?” My whole family turned their backs on me and his too, but we loved each other and we still love each other. “, speaking of his meeting with his uncle. There is also the sequence where Isabelle screams “I am a Rucillio, I cannot be in love with an Arab”, or the sequence where Émilie asks Younes “Why don’t you want to marry me, is it because I’m French?” “. In addition, the reminder to the origins has been preserved: for example, we find in the film statements such as ” Never forget where you come from “.

Still from the film WHAT THE DAY IS NIGHT
© Orange Studio

But if the novel focuses on the fate of Younes and the history of Algeria, the film focuses on the character of Younes (his honor, his oath, his tugging between two cultures) and his history of love, which attenuates the tragic climate of the novel and the complexity of the relations between the different characters. Thus, historical moments in Younes’ life are overlooked in the film, such as the massacre of May 8, 1945, the meeting of General de Gaulle in 1960 or the cease-fire of March 19, 1962. Similarly, female characters such as Younes ‘mother and the patio ladies (Yezza, Hadda, Badra) don’t matter much in the film version, while Younes’ mother was originally the main character in the novel. Many other passages that affect Younes have also been overlooked or overlooked, such as the search for his identity, the family tearing, etc. Which attenuates the depth of these moving scenes.

Alexandre arcady has therefore given himself a lot of freedom by adapting the novel, by making shortcuts, perhaps for lack of time or money, but despite the adaptation being quite far from the emotion aroused by the masterpiece literary, the film does not fail to make us shiver, astound and transport us to colonial Algeria.

Should an adaptation be a faithful transposition of the source work? In any case, Alexandre arcady makes us discover What the day owes to the night in another way. From writing to screen, the adapted work is recreated according to the vision of its filmmaker.


Original title : What the day owes to the night
Production : Alexandre arcady
Scenario: Daniel Saint-Hamont, Alexandre Arcady, Blandine Stintzy, Yasmina Khadra
Main actors : Nora Arnezeder, Fu’ad Ait Aattou, Anne Parillaud
Release date : September 12, 2012
Duration: 2h39min

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