Reviewed by Vaughan Ames

'Papicha' took us to the heart of the Islamic fundamentalist revolution in Algeria in the 1990s but not to the fight directly: instead we followed the trials and tribulations of Nedjma, a young female student – nicknamed Papicha (the cool girl) - who wanted first and foremost to be young and fun-loving, and second to be a dress designer. Neither of these was going to be allowed by the new Islamic regime, but Nedjma was too optimistic and headstrong to realise that: she was young.

We see her life gradually being hemmed in, literally by a wall being built round the girls' college and mentally, by the increase in pressure to wear hijab and stop being 'naked' (showing any sign of skin). All the while Papicha and her friends continue to sneak out at night, whilst planning a fashion show of her clothes. We could see that this was never going to happen (especially as the film was based on true life events), so would Papicha give in, leave the country, or get killed?

Spoilers Follow

Well, her fashion show was raided by armed men who shot girls indiscriminately, but Papicha herself escaped, leaving room for some hope at the end of the film as she talks of "dressing all the women in Algeria" to the baby in her pregnant friend's stomach: the fight would continue.

As a film I found this hard to watch as it was nearly all filmed on hand-held cameras and much was done very close-up, all to give the frenetic, scary feel the director Mounia Madour was after. She succeeded in that, but it did leave my eyes feeling very tired! It was, however, a disturbing way of showing the violence and horror these women had to live through without being just a series of violent scenes. Instead, Madour managed to show the hope and spirit which continued to exist, by concentrating on the daily fun and laughter of the girls involved; I never thought I would watch a fashion show that was subversive!