Bastardo – The Italian Neorealism

I had the amazing opportunity to assist for the first time a press projection. All journalists, were invited to the first screening of Bastardo in Tunisia.
Here we go, 20 people in front of Al Hambra, the cinema theater, where Nejib Belkadhi‘s movie, is going to be shown. We went up the stairs, filled a form with our name, the name of the magazine we were working for, our email etc. and got a free DVD of the film! Then we entered the room, and suddenly we were no longer 20, but maybe 100 and more. After a brief and funny introduction made by Ferid Boughedir plus a presentation of the cast and the filmmaker, the lights went off, and the show began.

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Bastardo, is the story of a men, carrying this nickname, because he was found on a garbage can, in a sort of ghetto, that seems to be outside of the city, a neighborhood with no police, no rules, and a lot of poverty. Near than forty years later, the district hasn’t changed. Except that, the leader died, and his son took the power, a power that is really being held by his mother, Kadhra. Thus he’s only a scary, big fat, dumb puppet, leashing two pit-bulls, paradoxically nicknamed Larnouba (the rabbit) performed by a breathtaking Chedly Arfaoui.

An interesting thing is that, we found again, this whole, “mama” concept, the mother holding a small family mafia, such as Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom with a slightly aspect of light incest. And this feeling is even stronger considering the fact that Khadhra is played by a man, Lassaad Ben Adbdallah, who didn’t hesitate when asked to play this role.

However, our protagonist, really named Mohsen (the outstanding Monoom Chouayet), but never called so, and always mocked, looses his job, after protecting Morjanna, the women he loved, and who stole shoes from the factory they worked for. To be able to pay then, the “taxes” to Larnouba, a friend, Khlifa (Taoufik El Bahri), approached him with a business that could make them rich, and dethrone Khadhra; bring telephone network. And from that point, things will slowly degenerate, like a disease would slowly take down a person, if they don’t treat it right away. The way it was filmed, and the rhythm of the movie, is underlining this point, of slowness.

Power, money and respect. Those are the three elements that are the core of the movie. And those are the elements, that have this ability to change people, change their behavior, and turn them into something more animalistic, more primitive, hence, the strong continuous comparison, with animals, and more specifically, with chimpanzees. Each character is seeking power, to become the lion of the jungle, to “screw” everyone, just like chimpanzees do, bring the bigger steak and fight for their territory. But, as it goes also with animals, every character is teared apart, between, the image they have to reflect on others, and what they really feel. And Nejib Belkadhi accentuated on the body language of its characters, on how they show that they are in love, or sorry, or oblige to do things.

Thus, Larnouba is a perfect example, because, Mohsen was once his friend, who happened to tattoo a rabbit on his arm, but Khadhra disapproved this relationship, and made them cut the rope. To man up her son, she made his eat a rabbit, from flesh to bones, and from that moment, he was a victim of his mother’s orders, and wishes, and could never act the way he wanted.
Therefore, a very interesting and poignant thing is set up; a love triangle put. Larnouba was in love with Bent Essengra (the beautiful Lobna Noomene) who happened to be the more human and normal person among the others, and she sort of symbolized hope, but she was marginalized. Since she was born, she attracted insects, so it was more than a shame to have intercourses with her, or even more, to have feelings. Moreover, she happened to love Mohsen, who couldn’t love her back, because he had an unconditional obsession for Morjanna. The director, painted this frustration, of not having what we want, and showed the complexity of the human mind, and how easy it was to control one. Because, each one of the character is alienated by something, despite Bent Essengra who happened to have no family, and be like this, a character on its own.

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It is true, that Bastardo, is pretty much inspired by the italian cinema, and we all observed those little elements that reminded Down and Dirty by Ettore Scola, the whole universe, the dirty characters, the prostitutes, the madness. And I believe that, it is also, a film composed of a multitudes of metaphors, and details revealing aspects of every society around the world. I was moved by this film, I was so surprised. I am extremely proud, because I was blown away by the work, by every scene, every image that had something to say, had a story and built a masterpiece.

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