I Still Hide to Smoke: Women laid bare
by Cristóbal Soage
- French-Algerian director Rayhana directs a raw film about the difficulties of being a woman in a world riddled with injustice
The desire for freedom is innate to the human condition. Regrettably, combining being a woman and being free would seem to be a kind of utopia in many contexts of the absurd world that surrounds us. French-Algerian director Rayhana has made her feature debut with I Still Hide to Smoke [+see also:
film profile], which is being screened at the 17th Brussels Mediterranean Film Festival, and in it, she constructs a space where her all-female characters can play at being free. And the emphasis is on the word “play”, because beyond the walls of the hamam where they come together, their female condition reduces them to second-class citizens who are forced to accept any and every type of misery and abuse.
In I Still Hide to Smoke, Fatima (Hiam Abbass) is the manager of a Turkish bath where dozens of women come every day to unwind, forget about the fetters of the real world and share their secrets, hopes and fears with their peers. The women stroll around naked, smoke, and talk about sex, politics and religion, and we, the viewers, are privileged witnesses to the dynamics of this diverse and fascinating group of people.
The women are by no means oblivious to the tumultuous reality that is unfolding outside the hamam. Conflicts do exist between them, and they are not to be sniffed at. There’s a young recent divorcee and her ex-mother-in-law, the widow of the late leader of a terrorist group with links to Daesh, and a girl who has lost the power of speech after witnessing her family being wiped out by those very same terrorists… They are characters with diametrically opposite life journeys, but who have something in common: the fact that they are women confronted with an unjust world. Some of them resign themselves to acceptance, putting up with these injustices and struggling on as best they can using their strength and bravery; there are those who fantasise about finding a man who can make their existence all the sweeter; and there are others who are not afraid to vent their fury at finding that they are shackled to chains that they never deserved to drag around in the first place.
The film works so well because all of the actresses demonstrate an extreme commitment to their characters. Fully aware of the importance of the message that they are conveying, they all throw themselves headfirst both physically and emotionally into embodying this group, which serves as a representative fresco of all women, and not just Arab ones. The polished dialogue, in which tragedy and comedy intermingle, forms the basis of the solid screenplay, and the script is reinforced by Rayhana’s skill behind the camera, which manages to endow the movie – whose origins stem from a stage play by the filmmaker herself – with its own personality.
I Still Hide to Smoke is a life-affirming film that paints a portrait of a horrible reality; it is a cry for freedom uttered from the throats of a group of women fed up with being forced to pay for God knows what crime.
(Translated from Spanish)
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