Viva Laldjérie is a film about three very different women trying to survive on a daily basis in a man’s world, when there is no man. The year is 2003, and Algeria is dealing with a rise in internal terrorist activities, due to rallying from 9/11. Goucem is the lead protagonist, living in a world, of conflicted emotions.
She works in a camera shop during the day, for a Mr. Mouffok. She is bi-lingual and able to speak English, though; she never speaks about her educational background. Goucem is 27, gorgeous, and having an affair with a married surgeon, named Aniss. Goucem and Aniss argue over having dinner in public together. Goucem is angry at Aniss for not spending the weekend with her. And when he drops her off at what appears to be an Algerian version of a piazza, a stranger sees her get out of Aniss’s car and realizes she has money. Though, the money Goucem has, is her own. Mr. Mouffok had paid her that day.
Her payment is stolen out of her purse, and the scene skips to Goucem, with a couple boxes of pizza, sitting with the restaurant owners after closing. Goucem is in shock and asks to use the phone. She does not have a cell phone. She either cannot afford one or else does not want one in order to protect herself from potential terrorist operations toward her. Or both.
She calls Aniss, who does not pick up. She leaves a message. Then Goucem is at home, in her small apartment, with her mother, Papicha, who is rather masculine seeming, an ugly woman to be honest – the mother, does not seem to have much to do. She eats the pizza Goucem brought home and comments on what Goucem is doing, getting dressed, clubbing up to go out. Goucem is really her mother’s mother.
When Goucem leaves the apartment she puts on a body cover, an elegant type of long poncho and a hijab, over her club dress. At the club she plays pool…by herself. She meets a man there and they hook up in some sort of weird empty warehouse by the sea. The man respects her and asks to see her again. She rebuffs him.
Also pursuing Goucem is the sweet and understanding (as well as handsome) Samir, who stops by her work fairly often only to ask her banal questions about passports and photos. Samir admires Goucem’s spirit, though of course she treats him terribly because of how the surgeon lover, is treating her. Goucem is also earnestly afraid to lose Aniss because he seems like a protector in an insecure world. But the reality is that financially, psychologically, and emotionally Goucem would be better off without Aniss. It just doesn’t feel that way to her.
Goucem’s father has passed away at the age of 51, and she and her mother never discuss why. They visit the grave of the father- and on the way to the headstone, they pass a man with a beard and Papicha becomes afraid, that he recognizes her. The reason for this fear is due to Goucem and Papicha laying low from terrorists because Papicha used to be a dancer. It is implied they have moved from the suburbs after the death of the father, to a small apartment in the city, to avoid notice and survive.
Goucem confronts the bearded man directly, asking him if he recognizes her mother. He does not. Also, when Goucem and Papicha first leave their apartment complex to visit the deceased father, with flowers, Goucem sees Aniss’s car and says, “Aniss!” and begins to chase the vehicle. The car never stops. Then, Goucem gets to deal with the further dignity of being drilled by her mother as to whether that really was Aniss’s car.
The only friend in Goucem’s life is Fifi. The prostitute next door. Fifi’s character takes the whole, whore with a heart of gold cliché to another higher note. Fifi is well read, educated, wealthy, or at least well off, and politically powerful due to her independent use of money within the local community of women. Fifi protects Goucem, by listening to Goucem and caring.
Then Goucem does something horrible and stupid. She is bored, after a fight with her mother over how to handle their lives, and she enters Fifi’s room. She goes through Fifi’s client’s clothes, while Fifi and him are in the bath. Goucem steals the client’s gun and leaves.
Perhaps Goucem is jealous of Fifi. Goucem is sometimes spoken to as a whore by her mother, and treated like one by her lover, while she is trying to make a non sexual related living. These mental undertones might have also lead to Goucem taking the gun. The gun gives Goucem a sense of empowerment. When Fifi states her client is missing his gun and he wants it back Goucem says nothing. Fifi knows, that she might be in huge trouble for the loss of the gun, but continues on, in her usual caring manner.
Still despite her own problems, Fifi listens to Goucem and being a woman from a Muslim country Fifi handles her friend’s troubles in a proper manner. She takes Goucem to the local fortune teller. Fifi pays a large sum for this. Fortunes do not come for free. With Fifi there, all the other women are asked to leave for the day so Goucem can have more time with the fortune teller. Goucem asks the fortune teller, an otherworldly woman with a white painted face, if Aniss loves her at least. The fortune teller does not answer, but asks Goucem, if she loves Aniss. Goucem cannot say yes.
Later, Goucem tries to visit with Aniss, but his wife starts screaming about it and she leaves. Aniss; in this series of scenes is not revealed as the strong distant protector Goucem feels he is. He is a man, tired and not sexy, pulling socks off a laundry line and with a screaming wife, who is terrified about how she is going to protect herself and provide for herself, now that Aniss is remarrying. Though, not to Goucem. All women are the same to Aniss. His wife is as much his toy as is Goucem. (Aniss pays Goucem’s rent, since her money was stolen, though, it was probably stolen because of him in the first place.)
Aniss’s son tells Goucem as she is leaving Aniss’s apartment complex, not to come there anymore, and to do it at the hospital. Goucem tells the son, she is more than happy to point out to Aniss that his son is homosexual. This stops the son from being more of a jerk than he would be otherwise.
Goucem, then has a sandwich type meal by herself, sitting on some steps outside of the complex. (Aniss’s wife was having pasta alone). Goucem and her mother eat separately. Everyone in the film eats by himself or herself, for the most part. There is one scene where people are eating together, and that is for business.
While Fifi is at the fortune teller her client breaks into her room to look for his gun. Though, the manner he goes about it, implies he is not just looking for the gun. He does not like Fifi hooking up with anyone else (nevermind she is a professional) he also does not like her financial independence. On the way back from the fortune teller’s Fifi sees her client and comes up to him to say hello. He throws her in a car with a driver who is huge and has cold distant, pale eyes. Fifi tells the client, that they have been friends for awhile and if she needed a gun, she would have asked him for it. She asks him if he needs money. He says no, that he wants his gun. The client happens to work for “National Security.” Fifi asks where she is being taken and the client refuses to say.
Meantime in Fifi’s apartment her items are being removed and stolen. She has nice taste and very fine things. Three men come and clean out her apartment in silence, and give away to the residence what they do not take. The landlord steals Fifi’s things before she is even killed. Giving them to his children. His wife tells the children their father bought Fifi’s items at a market. Goucem sees a child wearing a shawl of Fifi’s and freaks. She goes to her room and pulls the gun out from under the bed. Goucem realizes what she has done.
The car Fifi is in, stops because of a wedding party blocking traffic. Fifi gets out and starts to run. She gets in one of the wedding party cars. No one questions her, as she is dressed like the lady she is. Fifi is discovered when a child in the front seat turns around and says, “Why are you crying?” There are only other women in the car. They take Fifi seriously and try to get through to the anti-terrorist brigade, but cannot because of a poor phone connection and the noise from the wedding party. When they cannot get through to the brigade, they kick Fifi out of the car due to the safety of the group, especially the boy.
In an unusually heartbreaking scene, Fifi increasingly panics for her life. Her eyes are huge and she starts to hyperventilate and cry and clings to the women, who push her away. She is removed from the car, under orders of the family matriarch. And she begins to run. The driver with the pale eyes, silently follows on foot.
Goucem goes to the police to report her friend as missing. They tell her they do not deal with terrorist kidnappings. Goucem says she does not know. At the police station Goucem runs into Aniss’s son, who got into a fight with another man. They leave the station together and Goucem saves Aniss’s son from an attack by pointing the gun at the assailant. Fifi was a much better person than the son. It is not fair. But it is the happenstance of life under a strange system.
Aniss helps Goucem retrieve Fifi’s body from the morgue. A strange place in the basement of the hospital with a foot of water. Aniss finally becomes good for something. Goucem loved Fifi. For many reasons.She mourns incredibly for her friend, holding Fifi's head and wailing. Aniss tries to comfort Goucem, but she shrugs him off.
Goucem is the only person attending at Fifi's grave. Then, she catches the bus, as there is a highway right next to the grave site. Goucem sees Samir playing a ball game with friends in a court yard. She gets the bus to stop, and joins Samir and his friends. She watches him play while speaking to his friends, who she seems to have things in common with.
Her mother, Papicha, has now found a job as a singer, as she is too old for dancing. Papicha comes across as beautiful onstage, her facial features are interesting this way. And so life goes on in Algeria. Whether fair or no.
Overall, the scenes of Viva Laldjérie are blunt, with sharp cuts from one to another and contain an abundance of psychology. The scenes throw the viewer into a world without explanation. The film’s emotional themes regarding women may be considered universal.
By Sarah Bahl