Divines (2016)

Electrifying filmmaking at times, this Cannes Camera d’Or-winning feature debut depicts a rebellious minority female teen from a French suburb who is suffering from social disenfranchisement as she seeks to make a better life for herself.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Houda Benyamina
2016 | France/Qatar | Drama/Crime | 105 mins | 2.35:1 | French
NC16 (passed clean) for some coarse language and drug use

Cast: Oulaya Amamra, Deborah Lukumuena, Kevin Mischel
Plot: A street teenager from a dysfunctional family from a banlieue in Paris comes across a young dancer who turns her life upside down.
Awards: Won Camera d’Or, SACD Prize – Special Mention & Nom. for Queer Palm (Cannes); Nom. for Discovery Award (Toronto); Nom. for Best Foreign Language Film (Golden Globes)
International Sales:
Films Boutique (SG: Netflix)

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Coming-of-Age, Social Class
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No

French-Moroccan director Houda Benyamina delivers a strong feature debut in this Cannes Camera d’Or-winning effort that traces the life of a minority female teen named Dounia from a banlieue (or French suburb), who suffers from social disenfranchisement. 

She rebels against her dysfunctional family, doesn’t have faith in the school system, confides in a black girl (Maimouna) whom she considers her best bud, and sells drugs for an older woman to make some money.  Dounia also chances upon a young man who is obsessed with the art of dance, but is unsure whether to fall in love. 

What I’ve described above seems like a familiar French narrative, but the striking difference is that we are seeing the story unfold from the perspective of a young lady rather than male hoodlums, who have very much been mythologised by films such as La Haine (1995). 

Divines is electrifying filmmaking at times as Benyamina plays with editing and camera tricks to immerse us into the fragmented, unpredictable lives of these people.  One memorable sequence involves Dounia and Maimouna pretending to be racing a Ferrari and throwing money around. 

Both actresses (the actress playing Dounia is actually the director’s little sister!) are extraordinary, infusing the film with youthful energy and a sense that the characters they play are larger-than-life.  Hence, the title ‘Divines’, which also has a religious, deific quality. 

While religion plays a small but definable role in Benyamina’s work, it’s the loyal friendship between Dounia and Maimouna that is the beating heart of the film.  But even a beating heart cannot last forever… 

This would made a great thematic double-bill with Ladj Ly’s even more potent Les Miserables (2019).

Grade: A-



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