Thursday, November 21, 2019

“Papicha” Girls Just Want to Have Fun and Freedom in Algeria

By José Alberto Hermosillo
COLCOA REVIEW: “Papicha” is a vibrant, compelling, and a must-see drama with social content. The coming-of-age story is about the courageous Muslim women claiming their place and time in a world of inequalities.

During the “black decade” of the 1990s, an oppressive system doomed women’s rights in Algeria. The Civil War in the African country brought them back to obscurantism. Director Monica Meddour decided to move from documentaries to direct her first feature loosely-based on personal experiences around her
years in college.
Monica Meddour, "Papicha" director at COLCOA.
Photo José Alberto Hermosillo. Festival in LA ©2019
When Meddour was a journalism student, she saw first-hand the uprising in her nation-state. Many wanted to leave; others, the daring ones who had to stay, experienced religious, political, and physical repression by the conservative retrograde system in power.

Accordingly, to the director, during those dark times, men were awful. Ultra-conservative women were making religious propaganda in the street as well. They were interrupting classes, attacking broad-minded girls by going to their houses to threaten them, violating their intimacy – forcing them to wear hijab all the time.

In Meddour’s intimate story, the hero is a young woman named Nedjma “Papicha,” played by Lyna Khoudri, winner of the Best Actress Venice Horizons award for the 2017 film “The Blessed.” 
Papicha, Jour 2 Fete ©2019
Lyna Khoudri’s performance in "Papicha" is fiercely virtuous! She plays the extraordinary, determined, young woman Nedjma Papicha exquisitely.

The female students, like any other woman in the world, want to dress up nicely, go out to the clubs, date, and have fun at the disco.
Papicha, Jour 2 Fete ©2019
While waiting for her Canadian Visa to leave the country, Nedjma's dreams cannot be placed on hold. She won’t give up her fashion show so quickly. She improvises the dresses with bargain fabrics to come up with original designs that will wow everyone. 

The other women are very supportive. They see their participation on the runway with ingenuity and determination. Indeed, an act of rebellion to be considered a symbol in their struggle for freedom.

The film doesn’t show the authorities often, but they are present every moment as a dark force that moves in the shadows repressing those who dare to be different.

The project took five years to make, and after many drafts, Meddour started production with mostly non-professional actors in her cast. Still, their natural performances enlighten the screen, making out of “Papicha” is a delightful and powerful movie. The actresses had plenty of time to rehearse before filming when they lived together in a house for a week.
Papicha, Jour 2 Fete ©2019
According to the director, "Papicha" was a film hard to put together, the subject matter is a sensitive topic to the authorities. Once she got financing, Meddour was able to show her country’s reality accurately and vividly, thanks to her background as a documentarian.

The most challenging task in making “Papicha,” for the talented director, was to edit the film because, in every take, they had different dialogs do to some improvisations.

The opposition against women's liberation has never been seen so vivid and realistic in a film until “Papicha.”

Some other contemporary films dramatize the women’s struggle for emancipation in the Middle East, such as this year’s Cannes Grand Prix winner “Atlantics.” Also, there is “Much Loved,” a 2015 film directed by Nabil Ayouch is a powerful film about the sexual repression in Morocco. 

“Mustang” is the French-Turkish Oscar nominee that ends up in tragedy over women’s awaking. “Divines” is a movie made in France, that shows a young woman of color fighting for a chance to survive in a violent city. 

“Adam” is the story about an out of wedlock mother judged by her society. The Afghan feature “Hava, Maryam, Ayesha” relates three feminist stories about their struggles dealing with chauvinistic men in their culture. Finally, the Canadian production "Antigone" is a story of a young African/Muslim immigrant struggling in Quebec's courts to keep the family together and out of trouble.

In many Muslim countries, men use religion as a form of oppression to submit women for their benefit. Women’s struggle in a Macho society recalled in these magnificent, daring, and beautiful films responds to the need to have World Cinema helping to bring equal rights to women in the world.

Monica Meddour, "Papicha" director at COLCOA. 
Photo José Alberto Hermosillo. Festival in LA ©2019
Festival in LA ©2019

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