A young French-Algerian woman, Selma, navigates emerging sexual desires under the constraints of her family’s patriarchal notions of virginity, intimacy and womanhood in this empowering coming-of-age drama.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2021
Borrowing from aspects of her own life as a French-Algerian woman growing up in Paris, director and writer Kamir Aïnouz crafts a striking drama about familial expectation and sexual awakening.
Honey Cigar – Aïnouz’ directorial debut – is an artful exploration of duality. Selma (Zoé Adjani) is at odds with her two cultural identities – torn between embodying the French culture of her peers and upholding the Algerian traditions of her family. Selma even describes herself as ‘double’ when questioned (for the first of many times) about her identity. Aïnouz parallels this struggle for independence with the turbulent political climate of the 1993 Algerian Civil War. While her homeland grapples with resistance to radicalisation, she too desires to emancipate herself from societal expectations.
When she starts at a new university, Selma seeks acceptance from her sexually-experienced classmates and discovers how liberating – yet disempowering – relationships can be. Aïnouz brings her lived experiences to the screen particularly authentically in these moments, in all their amusement, cringe and rage: the constant demand on Selma to defend her cultural authenticity will ring true for any child of immigrants.
Zoé Adjani’s breathtaking performance remains relatable, skillfully transporting audiences to their own adolescences. Lyès Salem and Amira Casar (Call Me by Your Name NZIFF 2017) in their roles as Selma’s mère and père are wonderfully subtle, skillfully supporting Adjani’s central role. — Starsha Samarasinghe