Madame Courage: A realistic portrait of a lost generation
by Samuel Antichi
- Veteran Algerian director Merzak Allouache exposes the struggles of an alienated thief eking out an existence in a dark world
Omar (Adlane Djemil) – an unstable and lonely teenager and dexterous thief – lives in a slum in the suburbs of the Algerian town of Mostaganem with his grumbling mother and elder sister Sabrina, who has been forced into prostitution. He leaves the house every day to rob people of their jewellery and any other possessions after taking a widespread psychotropic drug known among the youth in Algeria as “Madame Courage”, because of the boundless courage and euphoria it produces. One day, after robbing student Selma (Lamia Bezoiui) of her mother’s gold Hamsa pendant, Omar becomes besotted with her. He starts stalking her from a distance in the crowded streets of Mostaganem and sits below her balcony night after night. However, her treacherous older brother notices Omar and sees his efforts to attract her attention as a threat.
Madame Courage [+see also:
film profile], the latest effort by 70-year-old Algerian director Merzak Allouache – whose name resonates with nods of approval among global cinema connoisseurs – was launched at the Venice Orizzonti section, presented at the BFI London Film Festival and is now competing for the Fipresci Prize at the Stockholm International Film Festival in the Open Zone section.
With a stripped-down style, which intentionally robs the film of any sense of fiction, Allouache sets to shock with prolonged force, progressing from a story about a boy and his intentions towards a girl to a more allegorical tale about Algerian men’s tortured relationship with women. The camera lingers, realistically portraying the gritty local street culture, which offers no opportunities to its dwellers beyond a chemical bubble of drugs. Through a visually striking and uncompromising view on the current state of Algerian society, Madame Courage depicts a dead-end world and its shocking violence, filled with abusive cops, cruel pimps and vicious gangsters. By capturing the everyday, Allouache's film witnesses a socially urgent and haunting portrait of a lost generation.