Director: Yamina Bachir
The Algerian film industry has its roots in the ’60s and ’70s, after Algeria gained independence from France. The War of Independence was a popular subject for filmmakers at the time, present in Algerian classics like 1967’s The Winds of the Aures, and international co-productions like the Italian-Algerian Oscar nominee The Battle of Algiers from 1966. It seems that Algerian cinema slumped somewhat in the ’80s due to a lack of financing, but has experienced a resurgence, particularly in French-language features, since the advent of another conflict, this time the Algerian Civil War of 1991-2002. From this latter period comes Rachida, the first entry on my list to be directed by a woman. Yamina Bachir’s directorial debut, Rachida was screened in Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2002.
The opening scene depicts a day in the life of the titular Rachida. Rachida is a school teacher in Algiers, with a stable job, loving boyfriend and reasonably happy life. She is immediately likable and sympathetic. Soon, however, her world is shattered by an act of sudden violence. A group of terrorists including a former student of Rachida’s accosts her on the street and tries to force her to carry a bomb into her school. When she refuses, they shoot her and leave her to die. This sequence is very effectively shot – glimpses of the bomb-maker at work are edited into the scene to build tension, and then frenetic, handheld camerawork conveys the terror and chaos of the assault without becoming incomprehensible, leading up to a flash of violence that is appropriately shocking.
From here the film changes pace. After being rushed to hospital and successfully saved, Rachida leaves Algiers with her family to recover in a small town in the countryside. Teaching in the local school, she learns to cope with the psychological wounds of her attack long after the physical ones have healed. Interwoven are subplots regarding the other townspeople, through which Bachir explores and critiques the realities of issues like poverty, patriarchy and pregnancy in rural Algeria.
Although not a direct subject of the film, the ongoing war is a constant presence in the background that occasionally bleeds through in brief flashes of intense violence. Even in the village to which Rachida tries to escape, bloodshed is only ever just around the corner. Like The Patience Stone, my entry for Afghanistan, the politics of the conflict are not explored. The terrorists are referred to only in vague terms. “They” are ambiguous – a threat that could be from any conflict at any time. Instead, Rachida focuses on the innocent victims of war – the traumas and tragedies they endure, and their frustrations at the horror around them. There is hopefulness too, however, and Rachida’s physical and emotional recoveries over the course of the film leave us optimistic that with time, all things can heal.