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  • Gareth Crook

Papicha (2019)

We’re in Algeria in the 90s. Young girls escaping a repressive society, smoking and listening to Technotronic (I loved Technotronic). Despite the danger it could appear fun in the opening scenes. That is until the ‘based on true events’ text hits the screen and the gravity of the situation slowly increases. This is the problem with cinema sometimes, it’s easy to disconnect from the wider picture when the story is so engaging. This is beautifully shot and for a good half hour, it feels largely positive. Papicha a young woman interested in fashion, making clothes and having fun. Is not interested in wearing a hijab, praying, being told what to do by men. Sadly the latter is becoming more prevalent in the world around her. To be perfectly honest as we get further into the story, it’s bloody terrifying. Papicha lives on a university campus, studying in a seemingly progressive school. They wear jeans, swap cassettes. Aside the architecture, it could be anywhere. It’s not everywhere that people storm into your classroom and lead your teacher away with a sackcloth on his head for speaking French not Arabic! and that’s one of the less hard hitting scenes. One particular scene with a shooting had me completely stunned, if it weren’t so shocking, I’d say more about how elegantly crafted it’s portrayed. I thought this event would be the ignition for Papicha. Until now, satisfied with finding her way within this regime. Surely it’s time to escape. She’s not leaving though. Fuck that. Algeria is her home. Maybe you’re thinking this is where I tell you she gets a gun and goes postal, but no, based on true story remember. The whole thing is oddly understated, several sub plots of suppression. Religion used to divide, control and hate, but it’s the frog in the pan of boiling water scenario. Will they realise the magnitude of the danger before it’s too late? It’s a thoughtful and sensitive portrayal of women looking after women. Standing up for themselves and each other against a sometimes overwhelming religiously fanatic male force. That’s probably simplifying it too much though, Papicha has strong feminist ideals, but some of her friends struggle to match her conviction and this adds an extra layer of complicity to the struggle. There’s a real guerrilla style to the way it’s shot. Loose, intimate, increasingly claustrophobic. As defiantly uplifting as it is, it becomes brutally devastating. I suppose it was never going to end well. Highlighting these harrowing events is precisely why films like this need to be made. It doesn’t make it any easier to watch though. I won’t spoil the end, but it feels much as the rest of this film, quietly defiant.



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