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Review: Fadhma N'Soumer

BY RASVANTH CHUNYLALL

Known as the Algerian Revolution, thousands of lives were lost in the path to Algeria’s eventual divorce from France during the 1954 to 1962 war of independence. An intriguing feature of this war was the fierce participation of women. Fadhma N'Soumer explores one of the more prominent ladies – the film’s titular character – who flouted the conservative patriarchal propensities of her country to become a pivotal member of the Algerian resistance.

The year is 1847 and in her native village known as Soumer, stubborn-as-a-mule, Fadhma (Laëtitia Eïdo) continues subverting expectations. Pressured into marriage against her wishes, Fadhma refuses to consummate her relationship with her husband and disregards honouring the traditions expected of her, shocking the other villagers in the process. From the beginning, Fadhma is revealed as an intensely defiant and free-thinking woman.

When a grotesquely disfigured plague victim stumbles into Soumer, Fadhma nurses him back to health. Fadhma continues with miracle after miracle, becoming renowned for her mysterious powers and her wisdom. Her council is sought by Boubaghla (Assaad Bouab), a rising member the resistance. Recognising his potential, Fadhma bequeaths him a blessing, rendering him seemingly invincible. While Boubaghla places his energies into securing victories on the battlefield, Fadhma remains at home, mobilising the other women to sell their jewellery and struggling to gain her personal independence from her husband.

A scene depicting Fadhma commanding the attention of tribesmen gathered to discuss war tactics, exposes the quiet power of the film’s protagonist. Despite their reservations, Fadhma addresses the tribesmen with clarity and insight and they hang on to her every word. Sadly, in modern-day Algeria, the issues Fadhma faces still dominate the country. While Algerian women boast a high representation in government and at universities, there remains a huge gap in the civil liberties enjoyed by men and women.

Much blood was shed and atrocious acts committed by both sides during the Algerian Revolution. Men were gunned down, houses burnt and landscapes left devastated. Director Belkacem Hadjadj refrains from sidestepping these details and audiences will experience the full extent of the violence. In one tragic scene a child is flung from a cradle while the mother meets an end by an unforgiving blade. With its historical background, vast settings, gallant heroes and a supernatural element, Fadhma N'Soumer can be classified as an epic. As such it does succumb to the weaker aspects of the genre. Dramatic performances abound and there are unsubtle fight montages that do come over as cheesy. In light of the more sober features at the film festival, this was welcome and a highly entertaining fare.

 

Rasvanth Chunylall is a Media and Cultural Studies Masters student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. After surviving Catwoman, he has made it his mission to help people watch good movies.

 

The 36th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) is organised by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (a special project of the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Humanities, Cheryl Potgieter) with support from the National Film and Video Foundation, , KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission, City of Durban, German Embassy, Goethe Institut, Industrial Development Corporation, Gauteng Film Commission, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture and a range of other valued partners.

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