Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

"Engages with an energetic and angry vitality as well as authenticity." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Algerian director Mounia Meddour makes an auspicious debut with this feature which in part is based on her own personal experience. The connection shows in the raw emotions and the authenticity of details.

It boasts an electrifying performance from Lyna Khoudri as Nedjma nicknamed Papicha (slang for a hip and pretty girl). She is a student in a girls’ university hall of residence in the 1990s who is determined to stage a fashion show as an act of defiance against the forces of Islamist oppression.

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With her friend Wassila (Shirine Boutella) she is seen sneaking out of the confines of the women-only dormitory accommodation, like two fugitives on the run. The girls escape to a disco where they take surreptitious orders for clothes from contemporaries who are banned from buying the so-called “decadent” attire they would want from the shops in Algiers.

Nedjma reveals herself as an adept fashion designer and seamstress who organises the fashion show with her friends. In this male dominated world it is not only the men who are a coercive threat but also the groups of women in black hijabs patrolling the streets.

The girls' enterprise becomes increasingly risky as terrorist attacks bring lockdowns and checkpoints and a threat to their nocturnal activities. They seek solace in the network of female friends as well as maternal and sisterly support which gives the narrative its emotional backbone.

Papicha, who’s relatively well-off, is viewed at the start as being a lightweight fun-seeker but turns into committed feminist “warrior” who takes no prisoners. As transformations go it is quite something to behold in a film that may wear its feminist heart on its sleeve but engages with an energetic and angry vitality as well as authenticity.

The colourful clothes and swirling materials on display provide an apt metaphor for the suppressed freedoms of expression struggling to break out of society’s constraints.

Available on demand across various digital platforms from Peccadillo Pictures

Reviewed on: 03 Aug 2020
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A student becomes determined to stage a fashion show despite religious opposition.
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Director: Mounia Meddour

Writer: Fadette Drouard, Mounia Meddour

Starring: Lyna Khoudri, Shirine Boutella, Amira Hilda Douaouda, Yasin Houicha, Zahra Manel Doumandji, Marwan Zeghbib, Aida Ghechoud, Meriem Medjkrane, Samir El Hakim, Amine Mentseur, Khaled Benaïssa, Abderrahmane Boudia, Malek Ghellamat, Lina Boudraa, Slimane Bourdous

Year: 2019

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: France

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