“Then let’s sin away.”
Viva La’ldjerie follows the lives of three women living in Algiers as they negotiate the yawning gap created by the two vastly different cultural worlds they live in. As the spread of fundamental Islam clashes with the westernized aspects of Algerian society, the three women attempt to adjust their lives with varying degrees of success.
Goucem (Lubna Azabal) works in a photo shop during the day, but by night, she hits the clubs and bars. At 27, she’s considered ‘left on the shelf’–and everyone wants to remedy this by matchmaking Goucem with various men they know. Goucem is involved in an affair with a married doctor (Lounes Tazairt), and while she hopes something comes of that relationship, she also picks up men at clubs for one-night flings. She rents a small room in a tatty boarding house, and this she shares with her widowed mother Papicha (singer Biyouna). Papicha was once a famous dancer and singer, but now with society’s shift to traditional roles for women, she’s apprehensive of reprisals if she’s recognized when she ventures out.
The third woman in the film is the prostitute, Fifi (Nadia Kaci). She lives in the same building and is great friends with Goucem. Fifi has a booming business, but some of her customers aren’t savoury. Fifi doesn’t worry about getting married. She argues, “All the men who come to me are my husbands.”
These three women lead vastly different private vs. public lives. All three venture out in public fully covered from top to toe. But Papicha, for example, performs erotic dances in see-through fiery red outfits at home. The three women find that their dual roles collide–with permanent results. When Papicha hears that an old nightclub, the Copacabana is being converted into a mosque, she’s galvanized into action and seeks her past. Fifi and Goucem discover terrorism’s grip on their culture, and Goucem learns that even the police–who steer clear of incidents that smack of terrorism–hold fundamentalist ideas about the roles of women. Exotic, colourful and with great music, Viva La’ldjerie from director Nadir Mokneche is recommended. In French and Arabic with English subtitles.
“France is messing up her brain.”
Inch’ Allah Dimanche is an amazing film–right up until the last 5 minutes when it loses all credibility. Set in 1974, it’s the heart-wrenching story of an Algerian family reunited under French president Chirac’s “Family Reunion” policy. Up until that time, Algerian men who worked in France were not allowed to bring their families with them, but in 1974, that law changed. Zouina (Fejria Deliba) and her three small children leave for France with her truculent mother-in-law Aicha (Rabia Mokeddem). Zouina–who’s lived apart from her husband Ahmed (Zinedine Soualem) for 10 years doesn’t want to leave her elderly mother, but she’s dragged aboard the ship, and it sails to France.
The reunion isn’t a particularly happy one. While Ahmed greets his mother and ushers her graciously inside their new home, Zouina is more-or-less ignored, and this sets the tone for the relationships in the household. Zouina is completely under the control of her mother-in-law, and forbidden to leave the house, she’s treated like a slave. Zouina is relentlessly abused verbally as a matter of course, and beaten when she actually does something wrong. While Zouina speaks French, she doesn’t understand the culture, and many incidents occur that result in beatings. She manages to make two friends–Nicole, a young divorced woman, and the widow of an officer killed in Algeria.
While Zouina’s plight is explored with some intensity, the film also includes moments of lightheartedness. Zouina’s neighbours–the Donzes–are a house-proud pair of gardening fanatics who are simultaneously appalled and fascinated by the goings-on next door. Unfortunately, as the film reaches a crescendo, it dives into complete implausibility, and there is no reason whatsoever to explain the complete reversal that takes place. This cop-out ending just doesn’t fit the rest of the film, and that’s a shame. From writer/director Yamina Benguigui, Inch’ Allah Dimanche is in Arabic and French with English subtitles.
Filed under Algerian, France
“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.
“Why did you come to this hellhole?”
Daughter 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.