Houda Benyamina’s Divines packs quite a punch. The film is engrossing throughout.
From a poor, dysfunctional family, teenager Dounia’s constant is her relationship with best friend Maimouna. Eyeing a bigger prize than schooling will teach her, Dounia wants to escape the lack of opportunity afforded by her upbringing…
Director and co-writer Houda Benyamina has created an attention-grabbing film with Divines. The film functions on a number of layers, and works effectively at most of these. It is a buddy movie, focusing on the relationship between best friends Dounia and Maimouna. It is also a morality play, with actions increasingly having consequences as the film progresses. The film is also a thriller, with Dounia’s actions becoming more perilous as she chases wealth.
Benyamina delivers a striking insight into a teenager faced with limited opportunity. She paints her protagonist in a negative light; Dounia first comes across as very unlikeable. However, she grows more sympathetic as the film progresses. Characters in the film are well crafted. Maimouna provides the comic relief, but she has more depth than just this. The friendship between the pair is central to the film, and provides much of the heart.
Divines has an energy that is appealing. This is obvious from the film’s opening scene. The camera work is good, and the art direction provides a stark contrast between Dounia’s current life and bleak opportunities compared to her aspirations. The false driving scene is excellent insight into the mind of the protagonists. It highlights the reality that they face, and how far removed their aspirations are. Rebecca’s speeches to the girls exemplify the type of role model available to in this environment. Oulaya Amamra and Déborah Lukumuena are great as Dounia and Maimouna.
The climax of the film is slightly overwrought, even if the sense of action and consequence is strong. Divines is a great film overall and situates Houda Benyamina as a filmmaker to watch.
Divines is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.