With the international feature film race heating up, Algeria’s official entry “Papicha” has already beaten the odds of becoming the most successful African film directed by a woman at the French box office.
Mounia Meddour’s debut feature, “Papicha” has grossed an estimated 1.6 million euros from about 250,000 tickets since its Oct. 9 release in France and it’s still playing in 60 screens. In comparison with Mati Diop’s “Atlantique,” which represents Senegal in this year’s Oscar race, “Papicha” grossed almost four times more. Another African film directed by a woman, Wanuri Kahiu’s “Rafiki” which bowed at Cannes in 2018, sold just 40,000 tickets in France.
Since world premiering in Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival, “Papicha” has also won 24 prizes, including best Arab film at El Gouna festival; and it recently received two Revelations nominations from the Cesar Awards (France’s equivalent to the Oscars) for its leading actors Lyna Khoudri and Shirine Boutella, on par with “Les Miserables,” France’s Oscar entry, and “Atlantique.”
Set in Algiers in the 1990s, “Papicha” follows powerful young women who refuse to bow down to fundamentalism and reject the new bans imposed by the radical Islamists as the women plan to put on a fashion show.
“Papicha”‘s inclusion in the Oscar race was threatened when local authorities in Algeria pulled the plug on the movie’s limited theatrical release the week of Sept. 21 — making it impossible for “Papicha” to screen in Algeria before the Sept. 30 deadline required to qualify for inclusion in this category.
The release of “Papicha” was indeed canceled by authorities without any explanation even though the film was shot in Algeria, partly financed there and granted a screening visa. Meddour previously told Variety that the cancellation reflects the volatile political climate in Algeria, where pro-democracy street protests have been taking place since March.
“Papicha” was produced by Xavier Gens and Gregoire Gensollen at Paris-based The Ink Connection, Patrick André at High Sea Productions, and co-produced by Belkacem Hadjadj at Algiers-based Tayda Film and Paul-Dominique Vacharasinthu at Tribus P Films.
The film has now been sold by Jour2Fête to 31 markets, including Italy, UK, Ireland, Mexico, MENA, Scandinavia, Japan, Spain and Latin America. A U.S. deal is in discussions.