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SAMIA (director/writer/editor: Philippe Faucon; screenwriter: Soraya Nini/from the novel “Ils disent que je suis une beurette” by Soraya Nini; cinematographer: Jacques Loiseleux; music: Rachid Taha; cast: Lynda Benahouda (Samia), Mohamed Chaouch (Yacine), Kheira Oualhaci (Halima, la mère), Nadia El Koutei (Amel, la grande soeur), Yamina Amri (La tante), Lakhdar Smati (Mohamed, the father), Amel Sahnoune (Kathia), Marie Riviere (La conseillère d’orientation), Naïma Abdelhamid (Naïma), Farida Abdallah Hadj (Farida), Faroud Bouzarouza (Malik); Runtime: 73; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Humbert Balsan; Filmmuseum Distributie; 2000-France, in Arabic and French with English subtitles)
There was nothing fresh or particularly interesting in this human interest drama, but at least it was sincere and moving and unpretentious.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The director of Moroccan ancestry, Philippe Faucon, tells an angry story about a traditional Muslim Algerian immigrant family living in the French city of Marseilles and the effects of racism in society (the covert institutional kind that block social progress and the overt ignorant kind where yahoos hurl racial slurs at family members in the street). There’s also racism in the family’s home against the white Frenchmen for dating their pretty black girls. Racism has caused the family to be full of bitterness and strife, and has never made them feel as if they belong in their new country. But the film unfortunately reveals nothing new that hasn’t been said before about such a displaced family facing not only racism but unemployment, cultural clashes, and open rebellion by the girls over their strict discipline. It’s played out against the backdrop of their new country, as old values clash with the new. There was nothing fresh or particularly interesting in this human interest drama, but at least it was sincere and moving and unpretentious.

Samia is a pretty, pouting teenager the youngest of four sisters in a large traditional family in Marseilles, where her Algerian born mom is servile to her husband and her overbearing brutish brother Yacine–the oldest. He acts as disciplinarian since the patriarch is hospitalized with a serious illness. Yacine’s problem is that he’s an insensitive brute who has managed to have all his sisters detest him. The other brother Malik remains aloof, and lives elsewhere visiting the family’s cramped apartment only occasionally. It shows the boys have gained much freedom in their new digs, but the girls are still attempted to be raised in the strict old ways. Farida, the eldest girl, does well in school because she wants to spite her uneducated mom. She’s seen packing to leave for college and escape from her prison-like home.

In the opening scene Samia is being interviewed for a vocational school program and glares at the guidance counselor when she feels she’s being led into a program that will only lead to her being a cleaning lady. Samia finds no relief from her anger at home, or in the contacts she has with others her age in school, and walks around pent up with rage. Samia strives to fit in like the other French girls, but she always gets in trouble lying to her mother just to hang out with her teen friends.

One of the sisters, Amel, goes out with a French boy and this provokes Yacine to give her a thrashing and for her mother to say she should go out only with Arab boys–she’s making her father ashamed. With the help of her other sisters, Amel becomes a runaway.

There’s no comic relief or in-depth character study, or a hook for the viewer to get more involved with the family’s plight. But there’s a questioning of traditional values if it means women hide behind it as a false way to achieve identity.

Keeping traditional values seems of tantamount importance to the overwhelmed elders, as things are just not going well for them in their new modern city. Yacine tells the disobedient girls “Out there is France! In here is Algeria!” The sister slightly older than Samia, Naïma, is declared a virgin by the doctor’s examination, but mother frets when Samia refuses to be examined and exclaims: “That girl is afraid of no one… not even God.”

The ambiguous resolution made sense, though it offered no thought-provoking payoff. The cast of nonprofessional actors were convincingly real, but their limited acting ability kept their emotional tone on a one-note scale. All in all the film failed to hold my interest, even for the short running time of 73 minutes. The pacing was jarring and the execution was mishandled and the slight story was easily forgettable. No one character stands out or leaves a lasting impression, including newcomer Lynda Benahouda in the lead role of Samia.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”