Papicha (2019)

Director: Mounia Meddour
Writer: Fadette Drouard, Mounia Meddour
Cast: Lyna Khoudri, Shirine Boutella, Amira Hilda Douaouda, Yasin Houicha, Zahra Manel Doumandji, Marwan Fares, Aida Ghechoud, Meriem Medjkane
Seen on: 29.11.2022

Content Note: sexualized violence

it’s 1997 in Algiers. Nedjma (Lyna Khoudri) is a student who would like to live freely, go partying with her friends and just be young. So far, she and her girlfriends have found ways to escape the strict rules and do that. But political tensions are rising in an Algeria at war, and Islamic terrorists are calling for more and more limitations put on women. Nedjma is unwilling to accept this and plans a fashion show, both as an act of joy and of resistance.

Papicha is a strong debut feature that captures both the oppressive power of misogyny, and – more importantly – the liberty and strength that women can find despite everything.

The film poster showing Nedjma (Lyna Khoudri) and her friends after swimming.

Papicha is filled with vibrant young women, and the movie takes care to give them different perspectives and stories. The movie may center Nedjma, but Nedjma is not alone, and her friends are important parts of her life and of the film. The film is focused on them and has very little time for romance (more or less happy), which I appreciated. It was the right focus to choose.

Khoudry has an energetic presence that makes it easy to see how she would take on a rebellious leader role – even if the transition from party girl to resistance fighter was maybe a tad fast. But not unbelievably so, and the film never suffers for it. That is also due to Khoudry charismatic presence.

Nedjma (Lyna Khoudri) designing clothes.

As you watch the film, you are pretty certain that things won’t end well, and the film gets a lot of tension from the fact that Nedjma does not see that, or if she sees it, she definitely doesn’t want to accept it. She forges ahead, she takes risks, and you’re just waiting for the consequences. They do come, but the film manages to keep them from being so crushing that you would rather not have had any resistance. No, it is clear that the problem isn’t the young women who come together in solidarity and joy, it’s the fundamentalist who want to keep them from living their lives.

And that is the biggest strength of the film: showing that activism and resistance are risky, but absolutely necessary. It is a rousing call to action – and we can all use those every once in a while.

Nedjma (Lyna Khoudri) and her friends in the bathhouse.

Summarizing: inspiring.

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