“Hell is in my heart.”
Rachida an Algerian film directed by Yamina Bachir Chouikh explores the affects of terrorism on a young teacher. On the way to school, Rachida (Ibtissem Djouadi) is surrounded by a group of terrorists who demand that she plant a bomb at her school. When she refuses, she’s shot at point blank range. Although Rachida recovers, her psychological scars remain. Realizing that Rachida may be a potential target, her mother decides to move from Algiers into a remote village for safety, but it seems that violence is inescapable.
Rachida doesn’t glamorize terrorism–neither does it waste any time on humanizing the terrorists. Instead its focus is squarely on the innocents–those people who are working and struggling to make ends meet when suddenly their lives are ripped apart by violence. The village Rachida and her mother move to is subjected to frequent raids by a youthful thuggish gang of violent, well-armed terrorists. Rachida’s experiences are emblematic of the terrorist unrest in Algeria in the 90s (over 100,000 lives were claimed by terrorist violence). The villagers are easy pickings for the terrorists who swoop in and conduct armed raids, slaughtering and raping as they fancy.
Rachida is obviously not a high budget film, but nonetheless, this film is all that’s right in foreign cinema these days. Ibtissem Djouadi delivers a moving portrait of a young woman who struggles to maintain her human dignity in the face of inchoate, senseless violence. While the film touches on the fact that the terrorists are members of the Islamic Salvation Front, the film also focuses on the victimization of women in a patriarchal society that views women as property. One young girl, for example, is forced into marriage while the young man she cares for is constantly run off by her father–another young girl is raped by terrorists and ejected from her home as she’s somehow considered to blame for what happened to her. Scenes of great beauty (there’s a fantastic wedding party sequence) are juxtaposed with scenes of senseless cruelty, but the film is subtle, and doesn’t plant any unrealistic political speeches in the mouths of its characters. For those who watch the DVD, “The Director’s Statement”, and the section “Film in Context” should not be missed. This is a marvelous film, and by its conclusion, Rachida’s question remains: “Where was all this hate buried?” In French and Arabic with English subtitles.