Délice Paloma

Délice Paloma


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A délice paloma, in case you're wondering, is a dessert made from jasmine sherbert, crushed almonds and fresh rose petals. It is the specialty of a restaurant visited by the formidable Mme. Aldjeria. Unlucky for it. When Mme. Aldjeria visits you, trouble is never far behind.

When you visit Mme. Aldjeria, on the other hand, you could find the solution to your problems, provided you can pay (and walk up the 17 flights of stairs to reach her office). Mme. Aldjeria specialises in solving other people's problems and likes to think of herself as a national benefactress. Working with her son Riyad, her lawyer Djaffar, and a collection of attractive young women, she arranges marriages and she arranges divorces, ensures that lonely men have company and ruins businesses. But her best girl, Sheherazade, is getting older and wants to settle down, so she goes looking for somebody new. Rachida - the girl she renames 'Paloma' - has a fresh-faced allure which has all the old men swooning, but it also captures the heart of Riyad, who begins to rebel against his mother and the life she has made for him.

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On the surface of it, Mme. Aldjeria is an unsympathetic character, but the story is told from her point of view and her dry wit and lack of self pity gradually earn one's respect. TV actress Biyouna delivers a powerhouse performance in the central role and is utterly believable as the charismatic figure at the centre of an empire. It's the sort of role women rarely get access to, anywhere in the world, and therein lies part of the film's strength - it's less easy to condemn Mme. Aldjeria's activities in the context of a world where being a single mother would otherwise lay her open to all kinds of abuse, where women have no right to property after a divorce unless they can prove their husbands were adulterous, and where female sexuality is heavily repressed. On a certain level, she is evening the score.

A key moment in this complicated film comes when Mme. Aldjeria is visited by a woman whose son has gone missing. Unable to help, though she observes that this is not an uncommon occurrence, she sends the woman away with a list of human rights organisations to approach. If her activities are corrupt, so are those of the state - we later get an insight into just how efficient the secret police can be - and this, again, clouds the morality of situation. That state, of course, also regulates what can be talked about in the film itself, so Délice Paloma is careful in expressing dissent. When we see Djaffar swimming with a handsome young man and are told he's just begun a love affair, there is no explicit reference to homosexuality, but it's a pretty clear suggestion, an attack on official claims that such things don't happen in Algeria. Meanwhile, the forthright Sheherazade is at the forefront of a significant group of female characters portrayed as being comfortable with their own sexuality, even if we later see her retreating into a traditional role.

Délice Paloma also explores the eagerness of young Algerians to travel to Europe and to other Middle Eastern countries, often doing so illegally, seeking work. Although the risks of getting caught are made clear, there's a casualness about this which emphasises the extent to which, culturally, Algeria is already influenced by Europe. Caught between Arab traditions and Western modernity, it's a country full of social contradictions, and the lens of Mme. Aldjeria's agency allows us to view a rich selection of the sort of incidents which occur as a result. The film may be melodramatic, but it has some serious things to say, and it's refreshingly strong character piece in which the country is as much a character as anyone else.

Reviewed on: 02 Jun 2008
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The story of a woman whose agency solves people's problems, often in ways which bend the law.

Director: Nadir Moknèche

Writer: Nadir Moknèche

Starring: Biyouna, Nadia Kaci, Aylin Prandi, Daniel Lundh, Fadila Ouabdesselam, Lyes Salem, Nawel Zwit, Abbes Zahmani

Year: 2007

Runtime: 134 minutes

Country: France, Algeria


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