A look at terrorism in Algeria through the eyes of Rachida, a teacher in one of the school districts.

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Cast

Credited cast:
Ibtissem Djouadi ...
Rachida
Bahia Rachedi ...
Aïcha
Rachida Messaoui En ...
Zohra
Hamid Remas ...
Hassen
Zaki Boulenafed ...
Khaled
Amel Choukh ...
La mariée
Abdelkader Belmokadem ...
Mokhtar
Azzedine Bougherra ...
Tahar
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Amal Ksili ...
Fatima
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Storyline

A look at terrorism in Algeria through the eyes of Rachida, a teacher in one of the school districts.

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Drama

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8 January 2003 (France)  »

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1.85 : 1
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Terrorism At The Grass Roots Level
24 April 2010 | by (South Korea) – See all my reviews

'Rachida' examines the effects of the Algerian Civil War on the lives of its citizens and the impact the ongoing terrorism had on both their lives and psyches. Although still ensuing in some parts of Algeria today, the war principally ran between 1991 and 2002 and was sparked by the rising popularity of the Islamic Salvation Front party (FIS). Fearing they would be overthrown, the incumbent National Liberation Front cancelled the nation's forthcoming elections and declared the opposing party illegal. The country came under military rule and in response to the banning and arrest of many FIS party members, Islamist guerrillas took up arms and engaged in a prolonged battle with the government and all who supported it. Forming into several groups, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) rampaged through the towns, initially targeting only the authorities, but many soon turned their attention to the civilian population. Over a span of 11 years, upwards of 200 000 lives were lost. It has been alleged that some of the killings were conducted by government agencies, who then publicly blamed the Islamists for the deaths.

This then forms the backdrop of the film, set somewhere within that time frame. Rachida is a young female school teacher in Algiers, for whom life is good: she has a stable and fulfilling job, a happy home life and a steady boyfriend. The peace is shattered one day when she is confronted and subsequently shot by a former pupil, now a member of a GIA splinter group intent on delivering a very explosive message to the government. Sent into a country town with her family in order to recover, Rachida finds that while physical wounds heal quickly, psychological wounds are ever-lasting. And with the town held captive by continual and random guerrilla attacks, any chance of a true recovery is dashed.

Although I felt it worth providing a background to the war, it is important to note that 'Rachida's primary themes are not the political underpinnings of the conflict, and the film assumes the viewer already knows the details. It is essentially a study in the effects of terrorism, both the life-changing impact of a single incident of terror, and life under the ongoing presence of fear and death. The town becomes Algeria in miniature, with families losing loved ones, abductions and the constant pall of uncertainty over whether 'they', as the characters frequently describe the militants, are coming. 'They' the oppressors, rather than 'they' the religious fundamentalists or political insurgents, with the dialogue often asking of the viewer the root cause of the growing madness.

"Where was all this hate buried? This cruelty, this barbarity? These hearts deserted by all humanity."

For the most part, however, the focus is on the impact of terror itself, with Rachida herself an allegory for the national character - an ordinary person trying to live an ordinary life, but being beaten down by fear. However, unlike many of the townspeople, whom fear has cowed into silence, Rachida's anger gives her a strength even she isn't aware of, an anger to ask the questions others feel too resigned to ask. Ultimately, the film offers a ray of hope in the encroaching darkness that the human spirit is not always crushed.

The first Algerian film I have seen, I found 'Rachida' to be a very strong offering indeed, generally well-structured and well-paced, with a cast of actors whose performances at no time failed to convince. There were times when I felt the narrative wasn't sure who its subject was: the film often spends time being a character study on its lead, which results in a very effective personal drama depicting the effects of war on the human psyche, but at other times seems to veer off on tangents with the lives of unconnected secondary characters, attempting to be a sort of 'ensemble narrative' - a village under siege trying to survive. Both approaches are equally valid and worth exploring, but I felt they were not properly integrated. It suggested the producers felt that their initial approach wasn't strong enough to sustain feature-length and the scope needed to be widened.

However, this does not mar the principal aims of the film's discourse and I have no difficulty whatsoever in recommending 'Rachida'. As an insight into the Algerian conflict, it is very human, as a drama, it is very compelling, and as a film, it is quite effectively done.

Actual rating: 7 1/2.


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