“Papicha” is Algerian slang that roughly translates to “pretty girl.” In Algerian writer-director Mounia Meddour’s invigorating feature debut, it applies to the free-spirited protagonist as well as her friends, all of whom embrace fashion and makeup as means of expressing their individuality in a society that Meddour characterizes as increasingly demanding homogenization among its female members. The word is also uttered by men as a pejorative term, and this double meaning reflects the complicated nature of a fraught period in Algerian history. Set in 1991 in the early days of the Algerian Civil War, the film follows Nedjma (Lyna Khoudri), a university student and aspiring fashion designer who enjoys going out with her friends and selling her designs. Throughout the film, violent attacks by Islamic rebel groups threaten the women’s autonomy; one attack in particular motivates Nedjma to host a fashion show in which she modifies the haik, a garment that independent Algerian women were being compelled to wear by conservative factions. The film was banned in Algeria despite being selected as the country’s official entry for the Academy Awards—full of joy and despair, it reflects the intricacies of when it’s set as well as when it was made. In French and Ararbic with subtitles.