As a child, Kaouther Ben Hania went with her writer dad to the cinema in Sidi Bouzid, which has now become the registry office of the municipality. Thus, when Bouzidians need a birth certificate, they go to the “cinema”. A beautiful allegory on identity and its representations.
The countdown is on: we are 4 days away from the Awards ceremony, the Hollywood Oscars, and little Kaouther , who has meanwhile grown up, has some chances to be the first Bouzidian and Tunisian in history to be Hollywoodized, which even Mohamed Bouazizi did not manage to achieve. Of course, she has serious competitors, among them Bosnian Jasmila Žbanić, 3 years older than her, who has released another film to make the hearts of the Great-Whites bleed, ‘Quo vadis, Aida?’, which tells the story of the hand over, in July 1995, by the blue-helmeted democratic West, of the Muslims of Srebrenica to Ratko Mladic’s Serbian killers, after Messrs. Chirac and Clinton had given the green light.
Kaouther ‘s film takes as a pretext another tragedy that has somewhat scratched the opulent Europe: that of the Syrian refugees fleeing a globalized civil war provoked by this same West with a good democratic conscience.
Her film, ‘’The Man Who Sold His Skin, is part of the latest “new wave” of globalized cinema. Like Parasites, the South Korean film, or The Plattform, the Spanish film, we are once again witnessing the clash of the South with the North, of those below with those above. In short, attempts to put into images the planetary class struggle.
Kaouther, like her colleagues of the same generation in their roaring forties, has a rather solid film culture.
She knows her classics, including those that have never been screened in the cinema of Sidi Bouzid. And the virtuoso camera of director of photography Christopher Aoun does the rest. Many scenes of the film, by their framing, by the subtle choice of filters, the play of lights, fades to black and colors, can give an impression of déjà vu to old cinephiles (who will have thought of Greenaway, Bresson or Fassbinder), but have a force of impact on film lovers with a sight closer to virginity, at least those whose eyes have not been permanently destroyed by youtube and the soap operas of their national TVs, usually Turkish ones and dubbed in Lebanese-Syrian Arabic. And as Kaouther is endowed with a great sense of humor from both sides of the Mediterranean, her winks are also addressed to the addicts of Turkish-Syrian-Lebanese-Egyptian telenovelas, especially in the scenes where the hero, the heroine, her mother and her “dibloumat” husband are trying to overcome the malaise common to all Arab societies: “quickly, we must marry her before she does something stupid”.
There are universally jubilant moments: who can fail to be jubilant when seeing a little guy from Raqqa walking resolutely, barefoot, his bright blue silk robe floating, at the feet of gigantic paintings of the Dutch school in the Royal Museum of Brussels, as if he were reviewing them but without glancing at them, to then take his place as a living art work?
Let’s get to the heart of the matter: the plot of the film is undeniably well-founded – despite the fact that some people see the tragedy of the Syrian people as a pure “news item” -, the way it is staged and portrayed may not please everyone – and that’s normal -, but it’s a choice that we can only respect. Disgruntled critics have accused her of having made a film “for Westerners”, which does not speak to Arabs, in order to gain her ticket to Hollywood. In a time when everyone watches everything – Indian slum dwellers watch Icelandic series, Colombian housewives watch Turkish series – it is time to question this opposition between Northern and Southern eyes. From now on, every film director and producer aims at a global audience – a market – and Kaouther ‘s film, produced by Belgians, French, Germans, Swedes, Qataris and Tunisians, is no exception to the rule. Her film is such a patchwork of genres, styles and rhythms that everyone, from Raqqa to Sacramento, can find something to enjoy, with a few small doses of irritation. But the life of a cinephile is never a long quiet river.
Cinemattack Review Sheet
Genre: Satirical drama
Screenplay: well researched, neat
Direction: kaleidoscopic, a little shorba-like (soupy)
Soundtrack/music: classical western, arabicized-globalized music
Direction of photography: creative, inventive, mastered
Actor direction: excellent
Best Actors: Yahia Mahayni (Sam Ali) and Dea Liane (Abeer)
Worst actor: Monica Bellucci
Heart crush: Abeer’s eyes
Our rating : 4 (from 1 to 5)
“A summit of a film in a vacuum, KBH’s chic, loud and obscene humanitarian academicism competes in cynicism with what it intends to denounce. “
Kaouther Ben Hania’s film may dazzle the eyes of the audience with its charm/magic, but it didn’t dare to ask embarrassing questions about us as Arabs. A film that addresses the Western audience more than the Arab audience, and makes them aware of our condition, but the important thing is: do we use cinema to address our problems and find answers to them, or do we only seek to present basic problems that affect us without talking seriously and critically, first and foremost about ourselves? Chafik Tabara, AL AKhabar