The forces of violence and ignorance erode but don’t conquer decency and enlightenment in “Rachida,” the story of a vivacious young schoolteacher who refuses to buckle under to intimidation. First feature from film editor Yamina Bachir gets off to a slam bang start only to lose momentum in its portrait of the toll taken by fundamentalist terror and run-of-the-mill banditry in Algeria. Pic’s appealing lead and genuine feel for visual storytelling do much to outweigh slow and didactic patches. Lensed on location in Algeria — where the government put a halt to all local film production and shuttered cinemas during the height of internecine atrocities — pic is a courageous if uneven effort that warrants fest exposure in addition to hardtop play in French-speaking and Arab-speaking territories.
Lovely and self-assured twentysomething elementary school teacher Rachida (Ibtissem Djouadi) lives with her divorced mother, who has suffered societal contempt ever since she left Rachida’s father when he took a second wife. A gang of young men accosts Rachida on her way to work and demand that she deposit a bomb in her school. When she refuses, they shoot her point blank in the stomach and leave her for dead.
Rachida survives but, unwilling to remain in Algiers, moves with her mother to a small village. But Rachida bears emotional scars from her ordeal and there’s an even greater stigma on single women in their new home. “I’m in exile in my own country,” says Rachida, who begins teaching again although the specter of random acts of lethal violence conditions life for her and her neighbors.
With its many scenes of ordinary people too shell-shocked to react whenever evildoers openly wreak havoc, pic communicates a mood of ambient unease and near-powerless resignation. Citizenry is vividly aware that fleeting moments of happiness or celebration might be snatched away without warning.
Location lensing and sound are pro. Score tends too often toward a TV-like approach.