I Still Hide to Smoke – Review
I Still Hide to Smoke is a raw depiction of Algerian women sharing their experiences under the 1995 Islamic regime. The setting of the film is in a hammam; a Turkish bath. What might normally be perceived as a curbed space, serves as a refuge for women as they find a safe haven away from the constrictions of their society. The true uniqueness of this film lies in its direction; the portrayal of an alliance of womanhood. In the hammam, controversial conversations on religion, sexual intercourse, politics, and divorce are shared – topics generally forbidden for discussion in public, especially if you are a woman.
Rape and domestic abuse are also addressed in the film. We are introduced to Fatima, the protagonist, leaving her house minutes after she has just been raped by her husband. We come to know that is not just Fatima who experiences such inhumane acts, but also many other women in the film. “…I was 11. Instead of sweet, he pulled his pants down…he threw me down got on me and I felt a dagger tearing me, pushing my wound…” an older lady narrates her wedding night. In such a space, these women tell it as it is.
The significance of the hammam as a safe space is developed throughout the film as more women arrive and strip down, not just physically but also emotionally. They give one another massages, celebrate a divorce, seek refuge from domestic abuse, and rejoice the next wedding. Director Rayhana portrays the hammam as not just a place to relax but a healing space for these women. It is also in the hammam that we see Fatima’s hints of emotional vulnerability, as she abandons parts of her strict character. She strips down, cries, smokes and attends to the most vulnerable of women in the hammam.
Rayhana also shows how misconstrued the perception of marriage often is in patriarchal societies. She brings to light the ways in which marriage oppresses these women’s lives, and how their value is determined by their marital status. Fatima’s assistant in the hammam, Samia, consistently refers to how her life will be forever changed when she gets married. Taken out of school in the hope that she will meet a suitor, Samia, aspires to marriage as the highest level of accomplishment for a woman. If the move from a girl’s parents’ home does not fit society’s criteria, then there is no way out for her, even if she is educated. In case a woman decides to divorce, she is not considered free, because, as passionately affirmed by one of the older women: “a divorcee stays at her parents’ home.”
Rahyana also briefly introduces the viewers to different perceptions of birth control methods. In a heated exchange between a new divorcee and her ex mother-in-law, the latter concludes that her grandchildren were murdered because they used the pill. This strong accusation highlights child-bearing as the only role women have in society. Condemning the use of the pill also indicates that these women have no right over their bodies. A woman without a child is therefore treated as an outcast.
Rahyan’s choice to use an all-female cast is, in itself, revolutionary. She provides these Muslim women characters with a rare opportunity to explicitly reveal how they feel; their emotions, wants and needs. There is a splendid portrayal of solidarity. As the women of the hamman find comfort in each other, the importance of female solidarity in wider society is emphasised. In light of the ongoing women’s movement to fight patriarchal oppression, I Still Hide to Smoke is a film that sends a strong message to all women: “Regardless of our background, our cause unites us to fight for our rights. We can win this war.”
I STILL HIDE TO SMOKE [À MON AGE JE ME CACHE ENCORE POUR FUMER]
Algeria. 2016. 90mins. Arabic and French with English subtitles.
Followed by a Q&A with director Rayhana.
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