Discovery

Divines

Houda Benyamina

Divines 01

Girlhood meets Scarface in Houda Benyamina’s Cannes prize-winning debut feature, about two young women who become embroiled in the criminal world of the Parisian banlieues.

Girlhood meets Scarface. Houda Benyamina's debut is a suspenseful and kinetic film about a pair of young women determined to make their own way in a world that seems set against them.

In the banlieues of Paris, teenager Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) dreams of having it all: money, power, and a man. Unsatisfied with their socially prescribed career prospects, she and her friend Maimouna (Déborah Lukumuena) start dealing drugs as a way to make some quick cash. They are soon embroiled in a world of crime, which drives a wedge between Dounia and the object of her amorous interest: a sultry security guard who moonlights as a dancer (Kévin Mischel). The beautiful and cunning Dounia is ordered by her dealer to seduce and scam a local kingpin, but the plan spirals out of control, and Dounia is left fighting to save not just her dreams but her best friend.

Divines won the Camera d'Or at Cannes (the first time a film by an Arab director has garnered this honour), and it's easy to see why: shot with a ferocious intensity, it careens from scene to scene, capturing the vitality and wildness of its young stars. Amamra matches its energy with a commanding, chameleonic performance. Her Dounia — by turns a posturing teen, a shy girl, and a tough gangster — is a force to be reckoned with.

Benyamina doesn't shy away from critiquing contemporary French racial and religious dynamics. Set in a predominantly black and Muslim housing block, Divines highlights the discrimination entrenched in French society and policing. This rough and raw coming-of-age story has as much fight in it as do the two unforgettable women at its centre.

CAMERON BAILEY

This film has been selected for the next generation of film lovers by the TIFF Next Wave Committee.

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