Dounia, a teenager living in the slums and her friend Maimouna start working for Rebecca, a successful drug dealer in order to escape their poverty. Her meeting with Djigui, a sexy dancer, makes things complicated, but leaving Rebecca is not easy..Written by
Houda Benyamina's stunning debut Divines immediately reminded me of Céline Sciamma's Girlhood. The two films follow similar protagonists, both 16 year old girls growing up in the rough banlieu of Paris. But while Girlhood was the story of a girl growing up in the ghetto told by someone who wasn't from that area, Benyamina is someone who came from those places and understands it intimately and as a result her film feels more vibrant and multi- dimensional.
Divines is focused on Dounia (Oulaya Amamra, phenomenal), a plucky young teen who lives in makeshift tent camp with her mother who drinks too much and sleeps around. As a result Dounia had to grow up fast. Like a teenage Robin Hood she shoplifts from grocery stores bringing basic necessities to her neighbours and friends. While at school she is treated with condescension by a teacher, trying to inform her how to behave in order to get the low wage entry level positions she'll probably be doomed to occupying her whole life and decides that that isn't for her. Instead, thinking only of money, she hustles her way into getting a job with Rebecca, the neighbourhood drug dealer.
Now in another movie (like Girlhood) this would be represented in a very moralistic fashion but Benyamina shows how for someone like Dounia, working her way up to drug dealer is probably the quickest, most interesting way for her to achieve her goals. And while Dounia does some morally dubious things the movie understands why and never judges her.
Benyamina also has some fun playing with her characters and her style and there are some dance and fantasy sequences that make this play like a ghetto fairy tale. But she never forgets her serious side either. Divines is ultimately a film about forgotten people trying to make it anyway they can and Benyamina makes sure that you remember them.
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