Immigration is big in the news these days – mostly the opposition to it– around the world. It is absolutely the case that most people welcome immigrants when they need them and curse them when they don’t. What the natives really want is the fairy tale world of snapping fingers to make the genies of cheap labor appear and disappear as needed. It was as true in France after WW II as it is now.
Inch’Allah Dimanche, a quite wonderful, if not quite complete, film from French Algerian director Yamina Benguigui, explores in microcosm what happens when, after ten years, women and children are allowed to join their worker-husbands in mainland France. Zouina, as played by the wonderful Fejria Deliba, also French Algerian, brings three children, and her ferocious mother-in-law [Rabia Mokeddem] to a small row-house in Saint Quentin, France. After a too painful parting from her own mother at embarkation — with the mother-in-law cursing her, and the children frantic — she arrives to a husband, Ahmed, [Zinedine Soualem] who is more engaged with his mother than with his wife.
Zouina, despite having to steal the key to get out of the house, begins to make her way around the neighborhood and into the prize flower bed of her next door neighbor after the hyper competitive horticulturist stabs the kids’ soccer ball for a transgression into her sweet babies – that would be flowers. She learns the strange ways of shopping, that you can’t prepare your coffee in the back yard, and that some French women are demons and others are friends. She knows when one brings a gift of lipstick and rouge it must be hidden, after a quick try and pleasure at seeing the results.
Deliba is really wonderful as the determined, curious — and beautiful– mother. Her mother-in-law is a dragon of almost unbelievable portions, though she won’t be seen as a stranger to many cultures we are more familiar with. The man of the house is alternately a beginning guitar player painfully picking out “Apache,” a dutiful son and a rage-filled husband.
The weakness of the movie is that Benguigui didn’t quite make up her mind as to whether she had a comedy going, or an angry tale about women in the Arab world. The husband administers several savage and prolonged beatings. A heart wrenching scene ends Zouina’s first contact with another Algerian woman well into the film. On the other hand, the music, the exaggerated sneaking and running, the flower-gardening neighbors, sometimes cast it as a French comedy — promising to be all well that ends well.
And in fact it does end well as, after one more escapade, Zouina comes home with her kids alone on a bus whose driver she has caught the eye of. Ahmed, standing outside waiting for her, suddenly orders his mother to shut-up and go back inside and seems to leap to a new regard of his wife — who announces proudly “From now on, I am walking my children to school.”
An evening of intelligent fun and social commentary, not nearly as disturbing as Biutiful, Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s wrenching film, with Javier Bardem, about immigrant life in Barcelona. Inch’Allah Dimanche won several awards in 2001 for best film, best actress and for the director. A very nice sound track complements much of it, including several songs by Algeria’s well known Berber singer and song writer, Idir, [and here and here,] Alain Blesing’s “Lail” and “Djin,” Hamou Cheheb’s sweet and scathing “Mon enfance,” [My Childhood.] (English [google] translation below the fold.)
The title by the way, mixed Arabic and French, translates to “Sunday, God Willing.”
I’m going to watch it again, just to gaze, like the bus driver, at Fejria Deliba‘s smile.
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