First Feature Competition

Divines, directed by Uda Benyamina, is a funny, touching tale of innocence and ambition, with an eventual brutality that hits you like a brick.

Growing up with a heavy-drinking mother and no money or father to speak of, teenage Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) lives out her schooldays dreaming of earning enough money to escape the quicksand of her life. More than a dream, it becomes her fixation, one which leads her, and her best friend Maimouna, to seek work for a local drug dealer. As the girls become enamoured with the fast-tracked rewards of crime, they find themselves assuming greater and greater responsibility, with the ever-present undercurrent of danger in tow.

“pretty gut-wrenching stuff”

Films like Divines often hinge on the strength of its lead performance, and Amamra here is fiery and enthralling. It takes barely a scene to get the audience on her side, and by the end of it we are so wrapped up in her fortunes that we recoil with every setback she suffers – and ‘setback’ euphemistically covers some pretty gut-wrenching stuff.

Divines may seem to slide into melodrama in its final throes, but it is mostly taut and believable. The governing idea may be well-trodden territory (the ‘crime doesn’t pay’ movie), and there is a romantic side-plot which doesn’t convince as effectively as the rest, but faults notwithstanding, Benyamina has produced a lively, involving film of considerable gravitas.

Louis Chilton
@LouisChilton

4/5

Image: Uda Benyamina

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