7½ – Just For Entertainment

Even though Nejib Belkadhi‘s last feature got out a couple of weeks ago, I went to see it for the first time yesterday. The projection was followed by a debate, therefore this review will discuss both documentary and the Q&A.

10599147_816066421777521_5568454417116434268_nWe are getting closer to the elections, and 7½ came out now for a reason, or so it was implied. One hour and twenty minutes of film, more than the usual format of a traditional documentary, and like highlighted by the director, it is more of a fiction format, and what I would add is that he shaped it also like a fiction.

Shot between January and October 2011, from the climax of the Tunisian revolution to the elections, 7½ follows a sample of parties, and their correspondant leaders and/or members; Beji Caid El Sebsi, Moncef Marzouki, Slim Riahi etc. Taking the spectator and giving him a “back to the past experience” a little reminder; what was said back then, what has been applied until today.
I laughed, and I wasn’t the only one, but that’s all I did.

When you go watch a documentary that tackles political issues, and facts just before important elections, either you want to admit it or not, you want to see things that will enlighten you, that will help you organize your thoughts one way or another and yes, you might also want to relax, and play down the whole thing. Though, in Nejib Bekhadhi’s doc, yes you laugh, you criticize the personalities you’re seeing and their sayings and once you arrived at the credits, what did you retained from all that? What the documentary added to what you already known? Or what can be found in Youtube today?  This is what I will cruelly criticize about 7½; this lack of guidance and artistic activism.

The director said that he wanted to show something totally objective, just stating the facts, revive Tunisians’ memory, but, once you’ve decided to make your audience laugh, you also decided to show particular situations, make your speakers risible, farcical, then you got yourself a subjectivity.
That is when the role of the questions posed is here crucial;  indeed, the only questions we hear, were the ones made to win a laughter from the spectators, therefore when Belkadhi himself asked Slim Riahi what he thought a party was, and that the answer took a while to come but then was “to make politics” you laugh, because it is ridiculous, and meant to be.
The director’s goal was to ridicule all those big heads, and whether you like it or not, it is subjective. The questions are subjective, well constructed and studied to provoke some wanted reactions.

Nejib Belkadhi also said that his aim wasn’t to influence any one and didn’t want to make a serious documentary about politics (probably because the Tunisian politics is a joke), however, again, when he put down the pants of his political figures, it is discrediting them, it is saying implicitly though “don’t vote for them, they are either liars or incompetent politically speaking”. He made the job of caricaturists.

7½ is entertainment. The lack of artistic activism is reducing the documentary to simply entertainment. Plus, it isn’t targeting the mass, it is targeting a particular audience.

Tunisians (and even foreigners), if you really want to relax and laugh, yes, go watch 7½, but if you want to think, go watch Hamza Ouni’s El Gort, which is clearly to me, the best doc made until now about the revolution and the outcomes of it.


7 vies – Stockholm Syndrom

Obviously, after a political event like a revolution, material and content are being served on a silver plate for all artists. Therefore it is no surprise to see the proliferation of documentaries about the so called “Jasmin Revolution” in Tunisia.   7 vies (7 lives) is one of those, along with Wled Ammar or 7 1/2 more recently.

However, directors Lilia Blaise, a journalist, and Amine Boufaied approached something really interesting in their documentary. They studied a phenomenon currently happening – or at least supposedly crossing some minds – in the country; the nostalgia of a dictator.

7-viesReal quick context setting: in 1987, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali came into power, and stayed there for 24 years. Then on the 14th of January, the Tunisian population threw him out, because of inequalities, corruption and so on. Now, 3 years after that “revolution” people are regretting their overly narcissistic former president. Why? Is it because, islamists took over and it is no fun at all? Is it because democracy is taking a long time to be set? Is it because of increasing insecurities? Is it because the situation of people from low social classes are getting worse? Unfortunately, even though the documentary is triggering some important issues, which should be questioned by Tunisians a few weeks before the legislative elections, it isn’t exhaustive. Indeed, 7 vies doesn’t develop, it overflies several things without digging deeper into them.

It discusses cult of personality, the illusions established by Ben Ali’s regime, the incremental rejection of this regime by the population and overfly this process, and finally the outburst and its consequences. Despite interesting and clever interventions of journalists, researchers, lawyers etc. the notion of nostalgia, and why people felt nostalgic, that is to say, the psychological aspect of it, wasn’t husked, wasn’t fully investigated, and explained.
This might also be due to a penalizing time format of 56′.

However, this is unfortunate, because of the potential behind the directors, and their meticulousness in choosing their speakers. 7 vies regrettably lacked a structured plan, a more precise thematic, which led to leaving spectators wanting more, and feeling unsatisfied somehow.

7-vies.Image-fixe008It is true, documentaries can be tricky, because it implies either subjectivity, or radical objectivity. In the first case, you need to argue, support your principal idea, develop a precise thematic and convince or denounce. On the other hand, the objective documentary requires massive research, and impartiality; it is a report. Obviously, I am caricaturing a little bit, because, in reality a documentary can be shapable and combine subjectivity and objectivity, or merges other things, but let say that for obtaining a constructive work that doesn’t lose bits of itself here and there, you must decide either you will approach a subject from a subjective or an objective perspective and here again, define with extreme accuracy your problematic.

Anyway, 7 vies is worth being seen because even though it isn’t exhaustive, it raises questions, and provokes reactions in viewers. You are inclined to think about your system, think about this nostalgia of a dictator, if it is real, provocation or despair. And, when I went to its premiere in Tunisia a few days ago, it was followed by a Q&A, extremely exciting, evoking interesting questions and answers, debates and hypotheses, and I believe by catalyzing that, directors Blaise and Boufaied accomplished something big.

El Gort – Finally A Documentary That Said Something

I was at the premiere of Hamza Ouni’s documentary; El Gort, and it made me laugh, and got me emotional almost simultaneously. In almost 7 years of shooting, the Tunisian director covered the lives of two boys working on the hay trade in the city of El M’hamdia, in Tunisia, where his own father used to work. It was possibly felt like a kind of tribute to his dad, but it was even more perceived as a critic towards the Tunisian government.

Indeed, Hamza Ouni started his journey with those boys when Ben Ali was still president. He captured how hard it was for them to struggle and survive. Then, he moved to after the “revolution”, and finally, before and after the elections of October 2011. Did something changed? I’ll let you go and get the answer by yourself.

However, every character has this embedded idea of running away from Tunisia, to Italy principally, but anywhere would also fit them, to acquire a better standard of living. And this is not new, for years, young Tunisians dreamt of European countries, imagining them as heavens. Well, they are craving for opportunities, and the two protagonists even learnt some words in Italian, followed the French trends etc. And if they knew the hay business was so hard and was a shitty job, they wouldn’t have dropped school in the first place. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that money became a primitive need for them. Indeed, to support the family, to improve their lives, they needed to work the earlier they could, and that even though, they were exploited. Hamza Ouni, wanted to understand in a deeper way, their way of thinking and what pushes them to do one thing or another.

The protagonists are so real, and natural, they are full of joy despite their condition and you almost believe it’s a movie and they are actors, and you are projected into their world, hanging out with them. When the documentary comes to its end, you miss those guys, and that’s what was extraordinary, and what really surprised me. It’s no wonder the director won the price, during the 7th Abu Dhabi Film Festival, in the Documentary Competition, of Best Director from the Arab World, considering the fact that it was his first film.

In a nutshell, I never saw a Tunisian documentary this good, since I started getting interested in them, and I recommend this one, to not only Tunisian people but also everyone throughout the world. Big up to Hamza Ouni.

You can also find my article in here => The Pulse the online magazine of my University