- Mounia Meddour drills down into the feminist resistance vein running through Papicha, further stylising the theme and offering another wonderful role to Lyna Khoudri
Learning how to smile again, feel happiness and get back to enjoying life when you’ve lost the ability to do all three on account of a violent experience is no easy thing. The ghosts of the past often hover near, but running away from them isn’t always the answer: it’s better to reinvent, recentre and revitalise yourself with the new-found solidarity afforded by sharing your pain and discovering a new way of being. Such is the road of reconstruction mapped out by Mounia Meddour in Houria [+see also:
film profile], which was screened today within the 23rd Arras Film Festival’s World Cinema section (ahead of its release in France on 15 March next year via Le Pacte). Meddour’s second feature film peers even further behind the vigorous snapshot of the place occupied by women (notably youngsters) in Algerian society which the director offered up in Papicha [+see also:
interview: Mounia Meddour
film profile] (the film-revelation of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival). Hers is an in-depth examination at the crossroads of realism and expressive symbolism, which is filtered through the body by way of dance, and which speaks of anchorage within a collective and the resilience of dreams and life forces when it comes to extracting oneself from darkness.
"Push against the ground, don’t collapse". Houria (a name meaning "freedom" in Arabic) is a modern young woman who practices ballet relentlessly with a view to being accepted within a professional troupe. Living alone in harmony with her mother Sabrina (Rachida Brakni), who’s also a dancer who performs at weddings, Houria (Lyna Khoudri) shares the same hopes as her best friend Sonia (Amira Hilda Douaouda) who’s getting ready to travel to Spain illegally (the two girls are qualified PE teachers, but their professional futures have reached an impasse). Radiant Houria is also secretly hoping to pull together enough money to buy a car. In order to do so, she bets on ram fights in a disreputable neighbourhood, within an electrifying and testosterone-pumped environment. But one night, it all goes very wrong, and an assault leaves her in hospital with a nasty ankle fracture and post-traumatic mutism to boot.
"I’m already dead". A long process of drifting back up to the surface begins for Houria, in the midst of a small group of women who have experienced significant violence in their lives. She must find new meaning for her life, a new role, a new anchoring, but it’ll be anything but easy because her attacker (a pentito from the "dirty war" years) comes back onto the scene, protected by police inertia and by the country’s fears of the past which still cast a shadow on the present…
Focusing on striking visual angles centring on the body, great camera proximity, the expressiveness of gestures (sign language) and faces (along the lines of Marie-Claude Pietragalla’s work La danse, théâtre du corps, which Houria is reading), and the intensity of the night/day opposition, Mounia Meddour delivers a touching story and offers a wonderful role to her brilliant lead actress. But these formal choices produce mixed results, and the many themes injected into this screenplay of limited space prevent the film from taking flight in the way that it would likely have hoped and deserved to do.
(Translated from French)
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