"Paloma Delight" is an eventful tale of distaff ingenuity set in contempo Algiers.

Resourceful scam artist Madame Aldjeria almost gives procuring a good name in “Paloma Delight,” an eventful tale of distaff ingenuity set in contempo Algiers.  Scripter-helmer Nadir Mokneche follows his dense, bittersweet “Viva Laldjerie” with this equally engaging showcase for its charismatic anti-heroine and her attractive co-stars. Juicy, funny and sad survival tale is a sort of  Algerian “Rocky” in that protag’s “going the distance,” even along shady paths, has a dignity that must be begrudgingly admired. Pic, which should do nicely on July 11 release in Gaul, deserves wide fest exposure and more.

Upon her release from prison for unspecified infractions, Madame Aldjeria (Biyouna) is met by a veiled woman — the former Scheherazade (Nadia Kaci) — and her sister Mina (Fadila Ouabdesselam) who return Aldjeria’s  keys to the apartment she involuntarily left three years earlier.

Body of pic is an extended flashback that shows how cunning Aldjeria’s private practice as a “fixer” — for everything from securing a building permit to providing female companionship for lonely men — led to something different from what she had in mind. 

Foxy, street-smart Scheherazade is officially Aldjeria’s receptionist when she’s not called upon to help implement whatever the scheme du jour may be.  The two co-conspirators have never forgotten their travails during the years when rampant terrorism made their country especially dicey for single women.

Also sharing the terraced penthouse apartment, with its sweeping view of Algiers, is Aldjeria’s handsome young son, Riyad (Daniel Lundh). A bird enthusiast unsure how to free himself from his mother’s love, Riyad’s head is turned by his mother’s latest recruit: achingly lovely Paloma (Aylin Prandi), named for a celebrated dessert at the tea room where Aldjeria found the exquisite country lass waiting tables.

Paloma’s first assignment is to help entrap a local cinema owner so his wife can divorce him without losing the theater.  (Showmanship, in the pure old-fashioned sense, is a recurring component in Mokneche’s work.)

A con woman who thinks of herself as a benefactress, Aldjeria has her heart set on buying the nearby Caracalla Springs, a classy score that will help her leave her questionable past behind. Although the deal appears to be on track, shrewdness alone proves insufficient.

But Aldjeria — like the nation her name alludes to — is a wily survivor.

Mono-monikered Biyouna, a charismatic powerhouse much beloved in Algeria, leaps off the screen. Relative newcomer Lundh makes a fine impression, as do Kaci and Prandi.

Lensing brims with local color and score is agreeable.

Paloma Delight

Algeria - France

Production

A Les Films du Losange release of a Sunday Morning Prods. presentation of a Les Films du Losange, Sunday Morning Prods. (France)/Laith Media (Algeria) co-production, with Canal Plus, Cine Cinema, Arte. (International sales: Les Films du Losange, Paris.) Produced by Bertrand Gore, Nathalie Mesuret. Directed, written by Nadir Mokneche.

Crew

Camera (color), Jean-Claude Larrieu; editor, Ludo Troch; music, Pierre Bastaroli; production designers, Johann George, Sabine Delouvrier; costume designer, Paule Mangenot; sound (Dolby), Jean-Pierre Laforce, Pierre Bastaroli; associate producer, Yacine Laloui; assistant director, Nicolas Cambois; casting, Aurelie Guichard. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival  (market), May 24, 2007. Running time: 134 MIN.

With

Biyouna, Nadia Kaci, Aylin Prandi, Daniel Lundh, Lyes Salem, Fadila Ouabdesselam, Hafsa Koudil, Ahmed Benaissa, Nawel Zmit, Lu Xiuliang, Karim Moussaoui. (French, Arabic dialogue)

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