by Mounia Meddour
Franco-Algerian film, 1 h 38
papicha, public and critical success of 2019, had propelled the director Mounia Meddour and her young actress Lyna Khoudri to the front of the stage. The film, noticed at the Cannes Film Festival, then won two Césars: those for best first film and best female hope. Houria, worn by the same duo, is in a way its extension.
While the first took place during the “black decade” with its procession of violence, this one is anchored in a contemporary Algeria still haunted by the ghosts of the civil war. The subject is close to him since, through the path of reconstruction of a wounded dancer, he stages the fight of a woman to affirm her freedom.
Houria practices classical dance and dreams of ballets in a country where dancing is against good morals. Cleaning lady in a hotel during the day, she participates at night in clandestine bets on ram fights in order to raise the money to go to Europe. One evening, she is violently attacked and sees her ambitions shattered by a double ankle fracture. While her attacker, a repentant terrorist, benefits from the immunity granted in the name of civil peace, the shocked and mute young girl will gradually come back to life thanks to a group of mute women.
A social and political dimension
On a subject very close to that ofIn body, by Cédric Klapisch, the Franco-Algerian filmmaker constructs an intense and virtuoso drama. The lightness of her camera gracefully captures the movements of the body, but she adds a social and political dimension that transcends her subject with great finesse. There is the look of men on these women who dance and are not considered much better than prostitutes, these idle young people who dream of Europe and deliver their destiny to unscrupulous smugglers, and the denial of the violence suffered during the war civil society over which the country has preferred to cast a modest veil.
A very spirited and beautifully filmed first part is followed by the trauma and the slow work of rehabilitation. Deprived of speech, it is now Houria’s body that is at the center of the film. Dancing again then becomes for her not only a personal lifeline, but also an act of resistance. She expresses all her contained rage and her determination in a warrior choreography mixing contemporary dance and sign language.
If the outcome of the film may seem a bit expected, Lyna Khoudri, a mixture of strength and fragility, is once again exceptional and takes us with her in a ballet of emotions. She is surrounded by other women, also wounded by life, who, like a gynaecium, will protect her in this ode to sisterhood and freedom of the body.