VOD film review: Papicha
James R | On 08, Aug 2020
Director: Mounia Meddour
Cast: Lyna Khoudri, Shirine Boutella, Amira Hilda Douaouda, Yasin Houicha, Marwan Zeghbib
Watch Papicha online in the UK: BFI Player / Curzon Home Cinema / Barbican Cinema on Demand
“What are we supposed to do? Put on hijabs and stay at home?” That’s Nedjima (Lyna Khoudri) in Papicha, as she finds the rising threat of Islamist militants entering her day-to-day life. The title, which is slag for “cool girl”, makes it clear that she isn’t about to let the extremists trying to take control of Algiers do the same with her life.
A fashion student at university, she enjoys a Western-influenced life, sneaking out at night to go to nightclubs with her best friend, Wassila (Shirine Boutella), and by day selling self-designed clothes to other women. But as the human costs of the country’s civil war become harrowingly apparent, she only becomes more determined to stand up to misogynistic oppression.
Director Mounia Meddour based the script (co-penned with Let the Girls Play writer Fadette Drouard) on her own memories of the Algerian civil war, and there’s a ring of authenticity in the chilling way the bubble of these young women’s purported freedom so quickly shrinks. From spiked drinks to systemic shutting down of unwanted thought and education, this is a drama that understands the importance, and power, of self-expression, not just through what they say but right down to what they wear.
Meddour captures this through striking performances from her tightly knit ensemble led by the remarkable Lyna Khoudri. Particular standouts are Yasin Houicha and Marwan Zeghbib as two boys who seem to be romantic suitors for Nedjima and Wassila, but soon reveal their sexist, insidious attitudes that linger beneath their modern facade.
From the colourful opening montage, Meddour maintains a vivid energy that echoes the confidence of its protagonist. Later moments in the film perhaps stray too far from that subtly powerful portrait of individuality, but this is nonetheless an engaging, empowering snapshot of personal rebellion.