Directed by Leyla Bouzid
Country: Tunisia / France / other
Leyla Bouzid’s debut feature is imbued with a tactful dramatic strength and attractive charm. It’s no surprise that the film has conquered Venice when it was exhibited at that city’s prestigious film festival.
Happy and confident, Farah (Baya Medhaffer) is an 18-year-old Tunisian girl who lives in Tunis with her protective mother, Hayet (Ghalia Benali). For political reasons, her dissident father has no work in Tunis, having been relegated to the small city of Gafsa.
The year is 2010, only a few months before the start of the Jasmine Revolution.
Ms. Bouzid deftly reconstructs the atmosphere of fear lived at that time, when the corrupt regime of the former President Ben Ali, who ruled for 23 long years, intimidated, both physically and psychologically, the ones who seemed a threat to his leadership.
So, how come the innocuous, naive, and impulsive Farah is tracked down and threatened by the stern authorities?
She’s not only a brilliant student who was admitted to the demanding medical school but also an astounding singer, playing regularly with a rock band named Joujma whose leader, a lute player called Bohrène (Montassar Ayari), becomes her first true love.
In addition to the fun of playing their own songs, the goal consists in denouncing the oppression lived in the country through the illustrative lyrics that accompany the inebriating rhythms and harmonies, which is a soulful blend of modernity and tradition.
Still, the problems don’t resume solely to the truth carried by the songs. Farah is frequently seen drinking alcohol in bars, which are considered men’s places, as well as hidden in some bushes with her boyfriend, timidly discovering love.
Farah starts an arm wrestling with her experienced mother who, despite the woes and insistent warnings, understands better than anyone the rebelliousness of her daughter, almost a reflection of her own past. However, she feels powerless and anguished when her obstinate child vanishes, having to resort to an influential man who once was part of her youth.
Baya Medhaffar has an auspicious debut in front of the cameras, also surprising us with the interpretations of the original music composed by the Iraqi oud master, Khyam Allami.
The message conveyed by Ms. Bouzid, who co-wrote with Marie-Sophie Chambon, is utterly pungent and yet, I had the feeling that a few particular scenes, whether could have been better crafted or even suppressed.
Notwithstanding, we’re before a genuine and articulate statement about human rights, well contextualized in its socio-political perception.