Daughter of Keltoum (2001)

 “Why did you come to this hellhole?”

daughter-of-keltoumDaughter of Keltoum is an Algerian Thelma and Louise, and as such it examines the roles of women in this tough, unforgiving culture. Directed by Mehdi Charef, Daughter of Keltoum begins with a bus driving along a dusty, mountainous road. The bus stops, and the driver tells his attractive western-appearing passenger that this is her destination. The passenger Rallia (Cylia Malki) looks outside. There’s nothing there–just dust, rusty-coloured mountains, and no sign of life other than an ancient vendor hawking baskets and asparagus. But Rallia gets off the bus and heads up a path into the mountains on foot. Here she discovers a tiny, desperate community that’s composed of a handful of Berbers–including her grandfather and her mad Aunt Nedjma (Baya Belal). It seems that Rallia was adopted by raised by a Swiss couple. Now she’s back to confront her mother, Keltoum (Deborah Lamy).

Keltoum, however, no longer lives there. She works at a hotel in the coastal town of El Kantara and supposedly returns every Friday with good things to eat, magazines and other objects. But Keltoum’s weekly visits–like many things surrounding her personal history–are a fiction, and Rallia–with her mad Aunt Nedjma in tow–impatiently travels to El Kantara.

Along the way, Rallia and Nedjma encounter guerrilla fighters and bandits, but more than anything else, this road-trip exposes the horrendous position of women in Algerian society. In a violent culture where wearing the headscarf is mandatory and not meeting the eyes of men is a lesson in self-preservation, Rallia learns exactly what it means to be a woman in Algeria. Unfortunately, the film slides into cliches from time to time, but it’s still a remarkable film and well worth watching for anyone interested in Algerian culture. In French and Arabic with English subtitles, Daughter of Keltoum is one of the titles from Global Film Initiative.

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