Staging a battle of the sexes in Algiers, Merzak Allouache’s Madame Courage reveals a desperate injustice pervading male and female relationships.
Masculin Fémininby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Director Merzak Allouache’s Algeria is a country held a religious stranglehold that perpetuates poverty and inequality, and poisons the relationship between the sexes. Hoodie-clad Omar (Adlane Djemil) lives in the slums with his mother and sister, is addicted to pills nicknamed Madame Courage, and ekes out a living preying on women by stealing their handbags. He becomes obsessed by Selma (Lamia Bezoiul), whose necklace he tries to steal and who awakens a new emotion in him. She lives with her dominating elder brother and dementia-suffering father. Omar’s behaviour becomes stalkerish, which enrages her brother and his cohorts. In contrast to virginal schoolgirl Selma, Omar’s sister Sabrina is a prostitute abused by her pimp. With non-professional actors and shot verité-style, the film seems almost a documentary of male-female relationships damaged by society. And as a commentary it has Omar’s mother’s radio playing non-stop sermons from the local mullah. The injustice and despair we see was, according to him, perfectly designed by creation – a bitter irony that pervades the film.
Madame Courage is now showing at the London Film Festival