I Still Hide to Smoke is set in 1995 in the middle of Algeria’s Black Decade – the civil war fought between the government and Islamist groups after a failed attempt at a free election in 1992. The film is set inside a hammam (a public bathhouse) as a setting where women from all sides of society – secular, religious, ex-pats who had spent time living in France, the poor, the young and the elderly can talk openly about their lives and the war surrounding them.
The movie has been banned by the government in Algeria, partly due to the nudity (though it’s non-sexual, it’s a bathhouse after all) and partly because it holds no punches about women’s sexuality in a male-dominated society or about the Islamic fundamentalism that was fuelling the civil war of the time. The movie hit a nerve – the director, Rayhana, has faced attempts on her life over this film.
There’s a claustrophobic rage simmering in this movie as the sub-plots ping against each other and the violence of the streets intrudes into the bathhouse. It’s definitely worth a watch for a sense of both Algeria back then and now, especially as many of the issues raised in this movie are still evolving.