15 January 2022

Kamir Aïnouz's Cigar au miel | Honey Cigar (2020)

This is 1993*, and seventeen-year-old Selma (Zoé Adjani) (the niece), of French and Algerian nationality, lives in Neuilly-sur-Seine, no less, with her lawyer father (Lyes Salem) and gynaecologist mother (Amira Casar), and their home not only screams wealth but Algeria. She's just entering the ECIP business school and has to undergo a gruesome, sex-obsessed hazing ceremony. And it's a good job her parents don't know about it as they have strict views, although religion holds a back position here, and they have a Christmas tree. Not that religion can hold such a position in Algeria in those times, and the television set frequently announces the latest activities of l'État Islamique. (But the cigar reference isn't phallic: it's an Algerian delicacy, which Selma nevertheless does eat with her relatives in Algeria in, I thought, a rather suggestive way.)

The guys she mixes with at the school come from the HLMs, such as Julien (Louis Peres), who wants to sleep with her, and at one point asks her if she's a virgin as she's held him off for so long. But she's made it clear enough before that she isn't, although of course she's lying. To save face, though, she loses her virginity to a cucumber. Obviously her parents want to see her married off so they think of the highly respectable businessman Luka Toumi (Idir Chender), who's so respectable that he invites her for dinner, which she never gets, although she does get raped by him. Such is life, the traumas of which, of course, she has to live with.

She also sees Julien kissing a young woman at Julien's year's post-grad party, and this adds to the trauma. Very briefly, Julien drifts into her life again, but is due to leave for Singapore, never to be seen again. By this time her mother has moved her consultancy to Algeria, and Selma must of course soldier on in Paris.

*In the circumstances, it seems appropriate that we hear Dolores O'Riordan of the Cranberries singing 'Zombie' ('With their tanks, and their bombs', etc) when Julien and the then virgin Selma are dancing to it, although there's a slight anachronism here: 'Zombie' wasn't released until the following year: 1994.

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