Dir: Mounia Meddour | Cast: Lyna Khoudri, Rachida Brakni, Nadia Kaci, Amira Hilda Douaouda | Drama, 104′
A talented dancer is forced to re-think her life in this vibrant second feature from Mounia Meddour who continues to explore the Algerian sisterhood and their creative struggle against male oppression.
Houria (Lyna Khoudri) always dreamed of being a ballet dancer. Her friends are all in the same predicament, striving to make a success of their lives. As a trained PE teacher, Houria throws herself into often painful practice sessions, coached by her mother Sabrina (Brakni), in the hope of being accepted into a professional troupe. But she is just one of several women in this passionate and sensuously crafted drama who are desperate for personal and professional fulfilment yet thwarted by Algeria’s male-dominated set-up and blighted by tragedy.
Her best friend Sonia (Amira Hilda Douaouda), also a gym teacher, has organised an illegal boat passage to Spain. Having saved the money to buy a car by betting on ram baiting fights – in scenes that are grossly overplayed and distressing but aim to convey a testosterone fuelled male environment – Houria is then attacked by a convicted criminal who remains at large, due to sloppy policing, and left with a broken ankle and post-traumatic mutism, her hopes of a dancing career dashed. Once again the sisterhood comes to the rescue, and these scenes are evocatively played by the film’s talented cast, and beautifully captured in Leo Lefevre’s spectacular close-up camerawork that focuses on faces and body language. During her rehabilitation Houria volunteers on a rehabilitation project with aurally and vocally challenged women and together they find common ground and a way forward.
Houria – a name meaning ‘freedom in Arabic – often feels like a series of spirited episodes in the lives of these unfortunate women who have triumphed against adversity and made their way forward creatively despite considerable sadness, pain and regret. There’s a great deal of passion here but not much of a dramatic arc until the final stages when all the plotlines eventually come together. Despite formal flaws this is heartfelt filmmaking. MT
NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE | PREMIERED AT CAIRO FILM FESTIVAL 2022