Movie Information

A young woman resists the murderous repression of Islamic extremists in this so-so drama.
Genre: Drama/Romance
Director: Mounia Meddour
Starring: Lyna Khoudri, Shirine Boutella
Rated: NR

This French-Algerian film is an admirable portrait of resilient youth, following one young woman’s unwavering resistance to the murderous repression of Islamic extremists during the Algerian Civil War in the late 1990s. Nedjma (Lyna Khoudri) is studying French at a women’s university in Algiers, but as we meet her, she and her best friend and roommate, Wassila (Shirine Boutella), are sneaking out to meet their friends in a dance club bathroom — where Nedjma sells homemade gowns she designs herself.

The rest of the film grows from seeds planted during that scene: Nedjma decides to hold a fashion show in defiance of the terrorists; the young women find boyfriends whose views of a woman’s place in society vary widely; and the university becomes increasingly fortified and isolated. The details verge on soap opera territory, but the setting is vividly re-created. Directing her first feature, Mounia Meddour has a kinetic, verité style that keeps the camera moving in a mostly choreographed way, not so much to fake documentary authenticity as to keep viewers close to the action. (The handheld shakiness thankfully isn’t enough to warrant Dramamine.)

Khoudri is tough and appealing in the lead role, and her friends and family are well-cast for both talent and believability. Where the film falters is in its storytelling, as many plot points are telegraphed in advance (e.g. an assassination), while others seem easy choices (such as a character’s response to an unwanted pregnancy). And for a film about a harsh, violent time, Papicha — the title is Algerian slang for an attractive young woman — pulls most of its punches. When a beloved professor is hooded and kidnapped right from his classroom, for instance, the students barely react, and he’s never mentioned again. A grittier film would have been harder to watch, certainly, but perhaps more true to its own themes.

Available to rent starting May 29 via


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