Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Blessed (2017) Film Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
One of several interesting portraits of Algeria in the aftermath of its bloody civil war in the 1990s to emerge on the international stage in the past year, The Blessed would make a great double-bill with Merzak Allouache's docufiction hybrid Investigating Paradise. While Allouache puts religion front and centre, Sofia Djama takes a character-driven approach to her drama that nevertheless concerns itself with similar issues, including the age, class and religious divides in the country and how the shadow of war affects them.
Sometimes referred to as 'the dirty war', the Algerian conflict was marked by brutality against civilians, which Djama shows has left both physical and mental scars on more than one generation.The older viewpoint is chiefly represented by a doctor, Samir (Sami Bouajila) and his wife Amal (Nadia Kaci), who chose to remain in Algiers during the conflict although many of their friends fled to France. The younger generation is represented by their son Fahim (Amine Lansari) and his close friends Feriel (Lyni Khoudri) and Reda (Adam Bessa).
The action takes place across an evening and night during which Samir and Amal are aiming to celebrate their wedding anniversary, while Fahim and his pals make their own plans in the city. There's a sense of ghettoisation on multiple fronts.
Physically, the generally privileged and tolerant life that Fahim is living is far removed from that of Reda and Feriel. He is becoming increasingly radicalised - the main driver for their night on the town is to try to get him a tattoo of a verse from the Quran - while she is relegated to mum-replacement duties at home despite her feisty attitude when she's out with her friends. Samir and Amal's life also proves to be something of a gilded cage, however, as we see them face corrupt officials, patriarchal constraints and prejudice that force them to retreat to a 'gated' restaurant for their anniversary meal.
There's a stealthiness about Djama's drama, so that the plot developments gradually gather steam. She also has a sensitive ear for the ebb and flow of dialogue, capturing the natural rhythms of the younger group as conversations and flirtations rove from baking to pot-smoking, and borrowed books to Islamic punk music Taqwacore with the ease that only teens can muster. The same is true for Samir and Amal, whose meet up with old friends is no less intricate but has an entirely different beat. Djama immediately captures the sense of old friendships and the way that 'jokes' can carry sentiment that's serious as a heart attack underneath. The cast are also uniformly excellent, in particular Kaci as the brittle older woman, who just wants to parachute her son out of a situation she has coped with for so long, and Khoudri as a young woman whose public mask hides extensive private pain.
We feel the pressure of the past, pushing hard against those trying to realise a future - a conflict that rages unseen and has no easy resolution.Reviewed on: 29 Mar 2018