samedi 16 janvier 2016

As I open my eyes: a film against amnesia and nostalgia

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Maya Angelou, I'll rise
Translated from French into English by Jenny Bright, Tlaxcala

On these days of the fifth anniversary of the flight of General Ben Ali, the only event worth mentioning, before the flare-up of youth in the "other Tunisia" started on Jannuary 17th, was the Tunisian premiere of Leyla Bouzid's first feature film As I open my eyes, screened in the capital and major cities of the country from January 13th, 2016.
For her first feature film, the 31 year old director achieved a master stroke, worthy of awards in the last Carthage Film Festival and a series of festivals. The title of the film, As I open my eyes (Ala halet aini), is that of its title song*, sung by the protagonist Baya Medhaffar, Farah in the film.
We are in the summer of 2010, pending the results of the Baccalaureate exam which Farah, 18 years old, will pass with distinction. Her mother wants her to study medicine. Farah is not on the same planet: music is her thing, and she practices with the group Joujma, whose leader Borhène is her first love.
The group plays in the bars of Tunis and its suburbs, where beer drinkers appreciate their mezzoued rock and subversive lyrics. Hayet, the mother, played by singer and graphic designer Ghalia Ben Ali in her first major screen role, does not agree with the path taken by Farah, which causes in her a justified anxiety.
Subsequent events prove she had a reason to worry, but she will eventually follow the path of her daughter in what the director calls a "reverse transmission".

 5 years after the shameful flight of the dictator, Tunisian society is in the situation of all "post-totalitarian" societies: "The old is dying and the new cannot be born" (Antonio Gramsci). The main reason for the revolt is still there but now we can talk, create, think a little more easily
Leyla Bouzid took four years to complete the film, taking time to tweak all aspects. And it's a success, both in terms of the script, dialogues, directing, lighting and the soundtrack, so important in a film centred on a musical group.
Like any post-totalitarian society, Tunisian society navigates between two pitfalls: amnesia and nostalgia, both closely related. It is the role of artists, including filmmakers, to serve as pilot fish in this navigation, to send their society a close-up image to trigger emotions and reflection.. With a decidedly feminine approach to corporeality, Leyla Bouzid's film is probably the first in the Arab world after the "Spring" to show in such a manner, at once so direct and so subtle the fundamental issues of the ongoing revolutions: control of the body, primarily that of women. Despotic regimes are not content with controlling minds, they also have to control the bodies in all their dimensions and expressions.
In the Tunisia of Ben Ali and afterwards, walls not only have ears but also eyes. A key scene in the film shows Hayet, in search of her daughter, entering a men's bar. Customers undress her with their eyes in an ominous silence as if they were seeing a female being for the first time in their lives.
The revolution in which Farah leads her mother and their brazen Southern black maid - an almost mandatory character for any Arab movie but here revisited in a revolutionary way - is a biopolitical revolution, in the etymological sense: she wants to live. Neither survive nor underlive. She spontaneously refuses, without even thinking, the compromises accepted by her mother and father to survive the damper of 7th November. She will pay for it with a night of police interrogation constituting another very strong scene in the film, with very tightly framed shots, which says a lot more than many of Amnesty International reports on this dissolving regime.
Farah, Borhène, Ines and their friends are emblematic of a generation that walks their way. Their minds have begun to free themselves, it remains for them to liberate their own bodies and those of their parents.

Tunisia, 2015, 102 minutes
Director Leyla Bouzid
Screenplay Leyla Bouzid and Marie-Sophie Chambon
Original music Khyam Allami
Lyrics Ghassen Amami
Director of Photography Sébastien Goepfert
Editing Lilian Corbeille
Sound Ludovic Van Pachterbeke
Hayet Ghalia BENALI
Borhène Montasser AYARI
Aymen Ali OMRANI
Mahmoud Lassaad JAMOUSSI
Ska Youssef SOLTANA
Sami Marwen SOLTANA

(Text by Ghassen Amami)
When I see this world
of closed doors,
I get drunk and close my eyes.
Then each time,
a girl appears to me.
Sometimes she seems to be the same,
in the end, she's another.

In my mind,
her image is moving:
A flowery eye and another faded,
sky blues,
which turn green in the light,
black, hazel, angry,
radiant, smiling...

As I open my eyes,
I see people deprived
of work, of food,
and a life outside of their neighbourhood.
Despised, vexed,
in deep shit,
they breathe through their soles.

As I open my eyes,
I see people going into exile,
through the vastness of the sea,
in a pilgrimage toward death.
In the nightmare country,
heads lose faith,
seeking a new nightmare,
than that already known.

As I open my eyes,
I see extinguished people
trapped in sweat,
their tears are salty,
their blood is stolen
and their dreams faded.
On their backs,
we built castles.

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