Divines by Houda Benyamina Between the Metaphor and Motifs
Moroccan director Houda Benyamina's film Divines, which has been screened within the Official Competition at the Carthage Film Festival (JCC), is a magnificent mixture of the integrated cinematic elements including; the audio and visual motifs, in addition to the metaphors.
The film begins with Surah Al-Fathiha which is the first Surah in Quran and in a wonderful way, the divine meets the beginning of the film. The young star Oulaya Amamra acted as Dounia, and deserved to receive the Best Actress Award, along with Déborah Lukumuena for their roles, at this year's edition of the Carthage Film Festival (JCC) for her role in the film.
Dounia, herself is a metaphor for the world and the human being and his relationship with good and evil. In the first scenes we see Dounia calling her friend Maimouna at the mosque. Dounia is the one who looks like behind the walls and not her friend Maimouna who is already in the mosque. Behind that walls, she looks at the car which is driven by Samir, who works for Rebecca, like a trapped person between good and evil. The film asks the basic question, will God lead her to the straight path or will she be drifted into the underworld of drug dealing?
The answer of this question comes in the school scene, where she has a parodied scene with the teacher and then turned to a heated debate about what Dounia wants from life. Her answer is ready; money... money... money. She talks angrily and says that she will be a person better than her and will to leave school forever.
Dounia starts her career in drug dealing by working for Rebecca, taking Samir's position, the thing that creates a conflict between them to have the consent of Rebecca. The gasoline tank comes as an optical motif that indicates its devastating strength in the case of approaching to the fire and being used sometimes to fill in Rebecca's car tank with fuel to move. On the other hand, it is used when Dounia gets angry from Samir and set the fire in his car. Rebecca imprisons Dounia when she carries out a mission by her own and pours gasoline on her so she confess where is the money she took without Rebecca's knowledge. This leads to the tragic end of the film.
We can see the world through the eyes of Dounia, a voyeuristic in different places who makes us remember the character who wants to discover other worlds and other times, the sensory character who controls her senses when she sees Djigui while he is dancing. Djigui is representing another world that connects with her world, having the same rebellious spirit and the desire to achieve what he wants with the difference in value and the goals of both of them. Djigui wants to achieve his goal through dancing, while Dounia wants to earn money only, and therefore this relationship does not complete as the fate stands against it. The director focuses on this difference in destinies through the parallel cuts between Dounia's desire of revenge and Djigui's desire of achieving a high level of physical fitness to fulfill his dream as a dancer. Then, when the drug dealer was beating and trying to rob her, at the same time that she was supposed to go to see her boyfriend Djigui in his performance, another chance to meet him is lost when he awaits her in the train station to travel together, but she has to go to save her girlfriend from the clutches of Rebecca and Samir.
Dounia's family is a disjointed and immoral family, on the other hand, Maimouna's family is a committed religious one. Dounia's mother is a drunk woman who works in a nightclub with her transsexual boyfriend who sings Arabic songs that give a charming atmosphere as the director doesn't want to condemn him. On the contrary, he is a part of the charming life that includes evil and goodness; desire and sexual abstinence; liberation and commitment which Maimouna's family is sticking to and protagonist considers it charming at the beginning of the film.
The beauty of the film comes from being away from the idea of religion and focusing on spirits or as she entitled it "Divines". When a drug dealer beats her and she is in a very serious psychological crisis, she imagines hearing someone reading Quran and when she goes to the church to meet Djigui, she prays like a pure Christian. She wants to connect with God by any mean and without complicated rituals or official pertinent.
As I mentioned before, the director was successful in portraying the visual images in order to symbolize other things, such as the differences between Dounia and Maimouna in terms of shape, size and beauty as a visual hidden motif of the film. The director also represented the camp where Dounia lives in as a hidden place behind the trees, so the passers can't see and thinks that people who lives there often lives in a good place, in addition to the presence of trees that are a factor of separation between high-rise buildings that belong to the rich and modest buildings for the poor.
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