60th Thessaloniki International Film Festival: Papicha


1997, the Algerian Civil War, the social climate becomes more conservative, new bans are set by the radicals. They want to make women to cover up, literally from head to toe. Women are forbidden from going to work and from being educated at university. If not, fundamentalists are ready to show up and violently convince everyone to respect new rules. If the intervention does not help, they know how to deal with it. Religious propaganda is saying cover yourself before a death shroud does it for you. Which leads to the death of many people. Radicals are not afraid to put bombs, attack and kill everyone who tries to reject the new regulations.

The story of Papicha

Nedjma a.k.a. Papicha is a young and student who lives in the girl’s university hall. Being an independent, strong, full of energy and hope teenager. Papicha has great friends, a wonderful mother and a sister. She wants to stay and live in Algeria, trying to become a fashion designer. Despite the danger, she is determined to follow her dreams and proves to everyone that they are able to fight against religious extremism. Every day she can see hijab-promoting posters with the message “Sister, your image is precious to us – take care of it, or we will”.

As an act of protest and good faith, Nedjma breaks many rules: wearing make-up; leaving the university during the night to take orders in the club toilets from girls who are not able to buy the fancy clothes they want in any city store; dancing in the club; catching up with other girls and boys. Suddenly, she loses her sister. Devastated, but still fighting for her freedom, she refuses to give up. She wants to put on the fashion show featuring haiks and she does it, with the help from her friends and the director of the university. Finally, it is Friday – the big day. Models are beautiful, dresses are fancy, music is playing, everyone is enjoying the show. Then the action turns fast in a dramatic way…

A change will come?

War, religion, death, human rights. The film shows so many brutal and violent shots, the reality around the main characters was changing rapidly. What about family, friends, love and fulfilling the dreams? Nedjma is an alive symbol who fights for emancipation women in Algeria. Papicha leaves the audience in shock and speechless. Director Mounia Meddour shows us how people were treated during the civil war of the 1990s – if they refused to follow the new law, they were just killed. We could ask the question: what is the difference between events back then and now in other countries? Is there any difference?

I don’t remember the last time I cried so much watching a movie. Everyone in the audience was feeling the same emotions: shock, fear, disbelief. We still remember the protests which started in 2011 called Arab Spring. People across Arabic-speaking countries demanded human rights reforms and the release of political prisoners. We could say that through demonstrations, social media and personal testimony they achieved a lot, and at the same time, no much. In the movie, Papicha was fighting and she failed, but we all know the democratic transformations are needed, for women, for men, for humans.

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