Mounia Meddour • Director of ‘Papicha’

Today we share our media partner Cineuropa’s feature with filmmaker Mounia Meddour about her film “Papicha”. The interview took place during the Cannes Film Festival in 2019. The film is now streaming at virtual cinemas, and you can watch the film through Thursday, June 11th, 2020 on the Gene Siskel Film Center virtual cinema. See link.

PAPICHA: Algeria, 1990s. Nedjma (Lyna Khoudri, starring in Wes Anderson’s upcoming THE FRENCH DISPATCH), an 18 year-old student passionate about fashion design, refuses to let the tragic events of the Algerian Civil War to keep her from experiencing a normal life and going out at night with her friend Wassila. As the social climate becomes more conservative, she rejects the new restrictions on women set by the radicals and decides to fight for her freedom and independence by putting on a fashion show. After selection at the 2019 Cannes International Film Festival, and as Algeria’s official submission for Academy Awards consideration, PAPICHA scooped two Cesars (the French Oscar-equivalent) as well as the AMPAS Gold Fellowship Award for Woman, and the humanitarian award at the 2020 Satellite Awards. (Description courtesy of Distrib Films)

CANNES 2019 Un Certain Regard

“It’s important to speak about fashion because there is a masculine and a feminine side to it”

by Kaleem Aftab

21/05/2019 – CANNES 2019: Algerian helmer Mounia Meddour gives us the low-down on her feature debut, Papicha, screening in Un Certain Regard

Mounia Meddour left Algeria for France as a young adult. She then joined the summer directing programme at La Fémis in Paris. She made several documentaries, and her first short film, 2011’s Edwige, was selected for a number of festivals. Her debut narrative feature, Papicha [+], is playing in Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival and tells the story of Nedjma, who has a keen interest in fashion, and the dilemmas that she and her university friends have to confront in the face of rising fundamentalism. The term “papicha” refers to the equivalent of a hipster in Algeria.

Cineuropa: What is the origin of the film?
Mounia Meddour:
 Papicha is an autobiographical tale. I grew up in Algeria and lived there until I was 18, and when I did my baccalauréat, I lived at the university like those girls we see in the film. So there is a lot of reality that comes from my time there, such as the solidarity among the girls, the sweetness of life, and the various romances. But on the other hand, there were all the difficulties that we had to confront – for example, the power cuts and water shortages, and the political situation in Algeria. Added to that, there are, of course, fictional elements, especially in the scenes at the climax of the film.

The movie is set against a backdrop of fundamentalism in Algeria in the 1990s; why did you choose this period? 
In the 1990s, there was a rise in the level of radicalism that would eventually lead to the Algerian Civil War and the “Black Decade”. There were 150,000 people who died, and lots of people were traumatised by the events. Everyone lost a family member at that time; it was a huge tragedy. There was intimidation. Women were forbidden from going to work and from being educated at university, and all the intimidation was very apparent. There were people who were assassinated for refusing to wear the veil. For me, that was an interesting context. In my eyes, the movie is really about the emancipation of Nedjma, who is more or less the representation of the image of all women. She continues to work and live her life despite all the danger.

The film sees Nedjma put on a fashion show; why did you decide to use fashion in this way?
The fashion show was important. It was vital to speak about fashion because there is a masculine and a feminine side to it that is reflected in society, with men dominating the public space and women more “behind the scenes”. 

The film is also about friendship and sisterhood. How did you draw these characters?
I wanted a complex array of characters. Nedjma is emancipated, but she is also fragile and strong, and that makes her interesting. She is from a working-class background, and university is a place of freedom away from home. Her friend Kahina dreams of going to Canada, while Wassila is more sentimental and Samira is religious.

When it comes, the violence always arrives in a very shocking manner. Was this your intention?
When there is a bomb or a murder, it is always a shock. Even during the civil war, violence was the norm. The question for me was how to deal with violence. It was important for it to be realistic and for us not to turn a blind eye to it.

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