First Short Film – Remote Madness

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A few months ago I participated in the first edition of 48 Hour Film Project Tunisia.

I seized the opportunity to direct my first short film in pretty hard conditions.
We had 48 hours to write a screenplay, shoot and edit the short film which was supposed to have a length of 6 minutes minimum.

It was a lot of pressure, adrenaline and thus this is the result of the whole raw process of creation.

Even though it isn’t great, it embodies my first step into this world, and a first amazing experience.

Watch it here : Remote Madness

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

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.