‘Papicha’: Rebelling through fashion in Algeria’s black decade

“Papicha” is a tale set during the black decade of the Algerian Civil War in the 1990s. (Supplied)
Updated 16 October 2019

‘Papicha’: Rebelling through fashion in Algeria’s black decade

CHENNAI: Some of the most haunting stories have been set against war and social turmoil. Margaret Mitchel’s “Gone with the Wind” threw up a passionate love story against the American Civil War, and “Casablanca” wove romance across Paris and Morocco as the Nazis wrought destruction. More recently, “Poland’s Cold War” painted the pain and angst of a pianist and a singer-dancer as they performed a heart-rending ballet during the cruel period. 

Such societal disruptions push men and women on a path of not just love, but also rebelliousness. We see this in Mounia Meddour’s first feature, “Papicha” — part of the recent El Gouna Film Festival — a tale set during the black decade of the Algerian Civil War in the 1990s. 

A gripping plot about an 18-year-old university student, Nedjma (Algerian-born French actress Lyna Khoudri), who is extremely keen on fashion. She loves to party, but when fundamentalist winds begin to sweep Algeria, and women find themselves pressured to change, Nedjma’s fun-filled days seem to be over. A bloody attack on her university campus leaves the teenager seething with anger, and her vivacious spirit transforms into a symbol of resistance. She decides to hold a fashion show. Her method may have been be colorful, but fiercely defiant in a country passing through suffocating conservatism. 

Meddour said in an interview that her movie was semi-autobiographical. She lived in Algeria until she was 18, and studied at university there just like Nedjma. “There is a lot of truth in what I have shown in ‘Papicha’. Of course some aspects were included to give a dramatic effect. The terrorist attack on the university campus was one,” she said. 

Although wonderfully acted by Khoudri, and featuring a strong performance from Shirine Boutella as Nedjma’s friend Wassila, the movie tends to whitewash some of the immensely disturbing events of the period. A kind of vacuum in the socio-political arena can be felt in “Papicha”. After an election debacle in 1991, in a fight between the state and radical groups, thousands of people were killed, and social liberalism began to evaporate. While the climax is not convincing enough, the contributions of costume designer Catherine Cosme and cinematographer Leo Lefevre as well as the imaginative use of black-and-white foreground in some scenes help lift the work to a memorable level.


Iconic Algerian raï singer Cheikha Rimitti gets square named after her in Paris

Cheikha Rimitti gets square named after her in Paris. (File/Getty Images)
Updated 17 November 2019

Iconic Algerian raï singer Cheikha Rimitti gets square named after her in Paris

  • Earlier this week, the Council of Paris designated an area of the French capital's 18th arrondissement to honor iconic raï singer Cheikha Rimitti
  • The square bears the name of the late singer

DUBAI: Earlier this week, the Council of Paris designated an area of the French capital's 18th arrondissement to honor the late iconic raï singer Cheikha Rimitti. Situated between Rue de la Goutte d'Or and Polonceau, the square bears the name of the Algerian musical pioneer.

Often called the “grandma of raï music,” Rimitti was born Saadia El-Ghizania to a impoverished family near Sidi Bel Abbes, Algeria, in 1923.

After being orphaned during childhood, she went on to join a troupe of traditional Algerian musicians and sang and danced at weddings and celebrations around West Algeria before moving to the rural town of Relizane and writing her own songs.

During her decades-long career, she composed more than 200 songs that tackled themes of colonialism, poverty and immigration that have inspired some of today’s most celebrated raï singers, including Cheb Khaled and Rachid Taha.

She moved to Paris in 1978, where her music went on to garner international recognition. In addition to performing in sold-out tours in major cities across the world, she also collaborated with Robert Fripp and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The iconic singer died in Paris in 2006 at the age of 83 from a heart attack, just two days after performing at the Zenith.