There is little new to be presented in the “slum story” genre. Trials and tribulations happen to young ruffians who, usually, make some ascended communion by the finale; while watching Madame Courage the spectator constantly searches for a new angle to be added to this archetype.
The movie follows the drug-dazed Omar, played by Adlane Djemil. Complete with a perpetual scowl, this misspent youth ventures through the predominantly poverty-ridden streets of his Algerian hometown and meets with the seediest of characters. Life is filled with theft, prostitution, and drug use. Some of these acts are committed by Omar, while others must be tackled to protect himself and his family. To further complicate his desperate life, a girl has stolen Omar’s affection –right after he stole her mother’s necklace. As tensions reach their peak, the chance for survival becomes scarily slim.
There is a haunting truth to Madame Courage. The deep dark sockets of Omar’s eyes nearly permeate the screen and the vacant streets are liable to leave lasting chills. This atmosphere is also evident in the many figures perverting the society of the slum; figures and faces no one would like to meet, even in a well-lit alley. It is no coincidence that when Omar is transgressing with these characters, airborne moral teaching from the Koran can be clearly heard.
The ingenuity of Madame Courage is that an already established genre can be moulded to fulfill objectives. In this case, the “slum story” is employed to society in Algeria much the same way Slumdog Millionaire examined abject poverty in India and Gomorrah exposed highly-organised crime in Naples. Thankfully, the execution of this new chapter matches the undoubtedly passionate objective.
With deliberate editing and a “critical eye on torn Algerian society” (according to director Merzak Allouache), Madame Courage is worth any and all attention. The punching narrative glides seamlessly and leads with a debate-worthy finale.
Madame Courage does not have a UK release date yet.
Watch the trailer for Madame Courage here: