Judge Ian Visser chooses not to invoke a humorous blurb for this sobering tale of Algeria's struggles against terrorism.
A tough, unflinching look at life under the constant threat of terror.
Rachida is a young, attractive woman living in Algiers. By all accounts, her life is good. She lives in a decent apartment with her mother, enjoys her job as a school teacher, and is popular and well-liked in her neighborhood. One day on her way to school, she is surrounded by a group of young men. They thrust a bag at her, demanding that she plant a bomb at her school. Rachida refuses, and is shot in the street and left for dead.
Although she survives the attack, Rachida is now in danger from the Islamic fundamentalists that shot her. Fleeing the city for a remote village, Rachida and her mother try to blend in and conceal themselves. The village is small, however, and their presence cannot be helped but be noticed.
Rachida eventually gets a job at the local school, but there is little comfort in her new life. The traditional teachers in the school lash out at her modern ways, gangs roam the streets, and roadblocks prevent travel outside of the area. The violence that she experienced in Algiers begins to creep closer with each passing day, and Rachida finds her haven as insecure as the place she has just left.
I'll admit that I had to look up the situation in Algeria in the 1990s, when this story is set. I suspect most of us would have to do the same: for most of the world, Algeria isn't even on the map. From the mid-1990s until around 2002, a wave of violence against the government and civilians by the radical Armed Islamic Group (known by its French acronym, GIA) swept through Algeria. Seeking to overthrow the government and install Islamic rule, GIA targeted Algerian journalists, intellectuals, and secular schools.
No doubt the above is a simplification; such situations tend to lend themselves to both blanket explanations and condemnations. What is likely is that the world of Rachida is unlike anything most of us will ever have to deal with. As a result, much of the content of the film is often jarring, even in the simplest of examples. School children swap expended rifle cartridges, drivers are ambushed by rebels, bandits openly extort money, and women who choose a "Western" style of existence are targeted for harassment or murder.
Rachida does not concern itself with lengthy explanations of the Algerian situation or the parties involved. While viewers with a limited knowledge of the region may find the lack of explanations somewhat disorienting, this limited background actually serves to thrust the viewer into the same chaotic world occupied by the characters. The viewer is subject to the same uncertainty and confusion as those portrayed in the film, a world where one is never really sure where safety can be found.
The acting in Rachida is solid. Djouadi Ibtissem's portrayal of Rachida is in turn both inspiring and heart-breaking, and Rachedi Bahia does a fine job with her role as Rachida's supportive, and surprisingly modern, mother. This is each actress's first acting role, making this a very impressive debut for the pair.
For a feature shot on a limited budget in difficult circumstances, Rachida looks excellent. The video is sharp and clear, with no noticeable defects or color imbalances. The Arabic and French audio track is solid and sounds very clear, with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix.
Special features on Rachida include a background statement on the Algerian political situation, a director's statement of intention, a trailer, and assorted production company promos.
Rachida provides a stark look into a situation many of us have never been made aware of. With unflinching honesty, the actors and director portray life on the edge of conflict as dangerous, fleeting, and often heart-breaking. Rachida gets a full endorsement from this judge. It is well-worth the effort to seek this film out and experience something very different from the usual filmgoing experience.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
• Director's Statement
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