Two French-Tunisian Films about Musicians: Satin rouge (2002) and As I Open My Eyes (2015)

For my week of North African films, I have looked at a couple of Egyptian films by Youssef Chahine and an Iranian-Tunisian co-production fusing a spirit of the entire MENA region. Today I have shorter reviews of two films directed by Tunisian women, both which touch on musicians and musical performance, which are central parts of the culture of the country it seems. I think they say plenty about their society, the latter film explicitly so in dealing with the intersection between music and the Arab Spring events of 2011.

Satin rouge (aka Red Satin, 2002) [France/Tunisia]

I quite liked this film, perhaps because it doesn’t force the melodramatic implications of its setup: a middle-aged housewife (Hiam Abbass) takes to belly dancing at a cabaret at night (sort of a strip club vibe for a country that doesn’t do that sort of thing? I’m not really sure, but certainly it’s a rowdy, predominantly male space). Anyway, she then falls for a musician (Maher Kamoun) who’s dating her daughter (Hend El Fahem), unbeknownst to either. Most of the expected emotional catharses are replaced by extended dancing sequences, and I’m fine with that because I’ve seen a lot more overacting about relationships on screen than I’ve seen belly dancing.

Satin rouge film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Raja Amari رجاء عماري; Cinematographer Diane Baratier; Starring Hiam Abbass هيام عباس, Hend El Fahem هند الفاهم, Maher Kamoun ماهر كمون; Length 100 minutes.
Seen at home (YouTube), London, Thursday 2 March 2017.

À peine j’ouvre les yeux (As I Open My Eyes, 2015) [France/Tunisia/Belgium/United Arab Emirates]

A story of a young woman growing up in Tunis, pointedly set in 2010 ahead of the coming revolution, but not really dealing with that except as a gathering cloud. Farah (newcomer Baya Medhaffar) sings in a band who play political songs, and for that they draw the attention of undercover police. It doesn’t construct a narrative which can be easily assimilated into standard ‘triumph over dark forces’ pattern; indeed, Farah’s encounters with state forces are emotionally draining. Thus it’s all the more impressive that she has such spirit and the actors all do really great work. It’s filmed beautifully with plenty of warm colours and a vibrant, up-close, prowling camera.

As I Open My Eyes film posterCREDITS
Director Leyla Bouzid ليلى بوزيد; Writers Bouzid and Marie-Sophie Chambon; Cinematographer Sébastien Goepfert; Starring Baya Medhaffar بيّة مظفر, Ghalia Benali غالية بنعلي; Length 102 minutes.
Seen at Rich Mix, London, Thursday 30 June 2016.


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