(Arabic and French dialogue)
Bourlem Guerdjou’s beautiful and moving film is set in the ‘burbs of Paris in the early ’60s, when the Algerian War was creating tensions among the Arab community in France. Centering on a husband who works himself to the bone to buy an apartment for his family while his wife turns to political activism, “Living in Paradise” is a reminder of the harm unbridled racism can inflict on a community. Further fest exposure is a given, and quality tube programmers will want to schedule this one.
Algerians began to migrate in large numbers to their colonizing country, France, in 1953. Pic begins with one such immigrant, Lakhdar, sensitively portrayed by Roschdy Zem, living in squalid circumstances by night while he labors on a building site by day. Like thousands of others, he exists in shantytown conditions, in a hut made of wooden planks and corrugated iron, in which the only lighting comes from an oil lamp.
Lakhdar is better educated than many of the other Algerians living here; he can read and write (and helps others send letters home) and he refuses to avail himself of the services of a tired prostie frequented by his buddies. But he misses his wife and two children so much that he persuades them to come and live with him.
Nora (Fadila Belkebla), his wife, is appalled by the squalor in which she’s expected to live and raise her children. Though traditionally accustomed to a subservient role, she begins — without her husband’s knowledge — to become politically active in the fight for better living and working conditions. Meanwhile, determined to move his family to an apartment, Lakhdar takes a punishing night job in a warehouse.
As the ironic title suggests, this life is far from paradise; high winds blow the roofs off the huts, while racists and unsympathetic police make life hell for these immigrant workers. Yet the spirit of Lakhdar and his family survives and endures.
An intelligently directed and handsomely produced film, “Living in Paradise” is a superior example of the modestly made, politically radical films that regularly emanate from France.