I was born in a small, quite unassuming village resting on the bank of the Egyptian Nile delta. The narrow streets, the mud and windless houses connected like an old stalled cargo train. People’s lifestyles hadn’t changed that much since the time of the pharaohs, and local demographers couldn’t find any dramatic census changes for a long time, around a 1,000 with a slim margin of error.
Villagers lived the simple life of a farming community, and their interest in the outside world went only as far as the edge of their corn fields. At dawn, men left with their animals for work and came back at dusk, while their wives stayed home, busy preparing meals and raising kids to work on the farm as soon as they mastered their first steps. Women seemed to consult with the same fashion designer, where their costumes were traditionally made. People went to the same mosque, celebrated the same holidays, and for generations, villagers kept the gene pool very much confined to a singular gene pool!
Life for people was a simple one, rhyming with nature, everyone knowing everyone else. The village had one street, one barber shop, one grocery store, one school, one cemetery, and one mosque and everyone ate one kind of cheese; always feta, and always white. Egyptians look at cheese as a live food, and they don’t as a rule throw their cheese away; when it gets old they just give it another name and eat, from Qareesh, Barameely, Creamy, and when it gets rotten they call it, “Mesh” (Yacky Cheese).
Smitten! is a fanciful romp and more – a fable, a caper, and four romances rolled into one. It begins when Tyler Hutton, a novice New York fashion exec, flies to Milan, Italy, in hopes of closing a deal and impressing his boss, his estranged father. Instead, Tyler is kidnapped and driven into the mountains by three bumbling Mafioso – Aldo, Bambo, & Cetto – to be held for ransom. They manage to get themselves lost, though, and spend the night in an abandoned cottage in a village that is under a spell. Upon awakening, each benighted man falls in love with the first living soul to meet his eyes…Smitten!
In postwar Algiers, Amal and Samir are a middle-aged couple hoping to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary. Drifting through their day, they eventually find themselves at a restaurant. Here, they confront their differences and disillusionment, threaded with the unsettled atmosphere of postwar society. Outside, their teenaged son Fahim and his friends, Feriel and Reda, spend their day on the streets of Algiers. They too reveal ideological differences among them, their banter soon leading to the revelation of hidden wounds left by the war that shaped their current world. While the scenes shared between Amal and Samir echo adult fatigue, Fahim and his gang wear their youth as if a target on their backs. Sofia Djama’s debut feature employs this multi-layered narrative to craft a stirring drama that illuminates the generational states of unrest left in the wake of the Algerian Civil War.