Just another soap opera in less deft hands, Nadir Mokneche’s “Viva Laldjerie” jumps off the screen with humor, poignancy and local color. Contempo tale, of a headstrong 27-year-old and her ex-cabaret dancer mother forced to make their way in Algiers as creeping fundamentalism undermines even the arts, brims with telling incidents, touching details and human drama. A fine portrait of women exiled in their own country, pic has earned praise and euros since its April 7 release in Gaul. Fest exposure is a given for latest feature from Mokneche, whose debut, “The Harem of Madame Osmane,” was a surprise hit in France and who’s come to be known as “the Algerian Almodovar.”
Pretty Goucem (Lubna Azabal) works as a counter girl in an Algiers photo shop. She and her extravagantly bold widowed mother, Mrs. Sandjak (Biyouna), a former exotic dancer, have been living together in a low-rent residential hotel since hard-nosed fundamentalists have it in for proudly flamboyant mom, known to her fans as “Papicha.” Their immediate neighbor in the hotel, Fifi (Nadia Kaci), is a vivacious prostitute who entertains gentleman callers around the clock, including a local police official.
For the past three years, Goucem has been sleeping with a married doctor, Aniss (Lounes Tazairt). They obviously enjoy their rolls in the hay at the hospital, but Goucem expects her lover to leave his wife — a process that’s not going fast enough for her taste. When Aniss claims he’ll be away for a while tending to victims of terrorism, Goucem soothes her anger by nightclubbing and engaging in reckless casual sex.
The concierge’s young daughter, Tiziri (Lynda Harchaoui), loves and admires Papicha who, she hopes, will teach her how to belly dance. When the aging ex-star and the young girl discover that one of the city’s historic cabarets, the Copacabana, is being converted into a mosque, Papicha decides enough is enough. She braves her old neighborhood to find out whether there’s anywhere she can resume performing without fear.
Algiers is depicted as a bustling yet slightly sinister city on rising and falling ground. Both decaying and modern, it’s a place where vestiges of traditional values vie with a pragmatic tone of every-man-for-himself. It’s also a place where the forging of an Algerian identity — after more than 100 years as a French colony, followed by years of civil strife and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism — is an ongoing process that has left young people adrift.
Dynamic perfs propel an involving pageant of slightly over-the-top developments, each of which reflects a facet of current upheaval.
Title blends the French (“Algerie”) and Arabic (“El Djazair”) words for “Algeria” in a cry that Algerian youth has coined for sporting events: “One, two, three, Viva Laldjerie.”