Moncef Kahloucha is a fan of ’70s genre movies, especially those with Bruce Lee, Jim Kelly and Clint Eastwood. Apart from working as a house painter in Kazmet, a poor Tunician locality, Kahloucha is a tenacious director, actor, screenwriter and prop master in his own zero-budget productions. At the limits of communal, visceral cinema captured on a VHS camera, it literally costs Kahloucha blood, sweat and tears to shoot his next film: Tarzan of the Arabs, opening at a bar TV set. With an amplified eye, Néjib Belkhadi not only records a ferocious making-of, but also manages to come out with a crystal-clear map of Kazmet’s social ills, including the Arabs who must survive in their Italian exile to the tune of the anthological “Tunisino” by Neshez. The savage primitiveness of the shooting, the struggle for a place in the ads of the neighbors-actors and Kahloucha’s displays of tinsel used in previous films are some gripping, all but likely moments of an incendiary passion for cinema.
In La Goulette, a small harbour town in the Tunis suburbs, Youssef, the Muslim, Jojo, the Tunisian Jew, and Giuseppe, the Sicilian Catholic, are as inseparable as their three 16-year-old daughters, Meriem, Gigi and Tina. In a fit of provocation the three girls all swear that they’ll lose their virginity on the day of the feast of the Madonna, each with a boy from a religion different to hers ! Once this taboo is brought out into the open, all three families fall out. But the friendship between the three fathers is so strong that it reconciles them, closer than ever before… until the eve of the Israel-Arab Six Day War in 1967 that forces apart Jews and Arabs all over the world. Continue reading
This second feature in Nacer Khemir’s Desert Trilogy is a visually ravishing folktale reminiscent of “The Thousand and One Nights.” The story revolves around Hassan, who is studying Arabic calligraphy from a grand master. Coming across a fragment of manuscript, Hassan goes in search of the missing pieces, believing that once he finds them, he will learn the secrets of love. With the help of Zin, a lovers’ go-between, he meets the beautiful Aziz, Princess of Samarkand. After encountering wars, a battle between false prophets and an ancient curse, he learns that an entire lifetime would not suffice for him to learn the many dimensions of love. Continue reading
Review: “Halfaouine, Boy of the Terraces” is a charming coming-of-age film from Tunisia that takes a rare look at the inner workings of Arabic culture — the stone- walled streets, alleys, rooftops and households of everyday Tunisia, where traditions seem little interrupted by the modern world.
Bab’Aziz, AKA The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul, is the story of a blind dervish named Bab’Aziz and his spirited granddaughter, Ishtar. Together they wander the desert in search of a great reunion of dervishes that takes place just once every thirty years. With faith as their only guide, the two journey for days through the expansive, barren landscape. To keep Ishtar entertained, Bab’Aziz relays the ancient tale of a prince who relinquished his realm in order to remain next to a small pool in the desert, staring into its depths while contemplating his soul. As the tale of the prince unfolds, the two encounter other travelers with stories of their own, including Osman, who longs for the beautiful woman he met at the bottom of a well, and Zaid, who searches for the ravishing young woman who fled from him after being seduced by his songs. A fairytale-like story of longing and belonging, filmed in the enchanting and ever-shifting sandscapes of Tunisia and Iran. Continue reading
A traveling writer and teller of fables, Nacer Khemir here applies his age-old skills to a narrative feature film, the first in his highly-regarded Desert Trilogy that includes The Dove’s Lost Necklace and Bab’Aziz – The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul. Khemir creates an exotic world with Wanderers of the Desert when a young teacher arrives to take over a village school isolated in the shimmering desert. Reminiscent of the best Iranian films of the 1970s in its use of color and setting, it also has something of the wit, cruelty and ambiguity of the Arabian Nights. Legendary figures materialize out of wells and the desert itself, groups of children hurry through a labyrinth of underground corridors, the teacher is whisked away to a mysterious rendezvous and never returns. Nothing is really explained; Khemir merely shows how legend, tradition and fate hang heavily over this community and he does so with a richly expressive visual style aided by superb use of color. Especially notable is the way the protagonists are always placed against sun-scorched landscapes in which nothing is quite what it seems, like the marvelous moment when everyone gathers around a ship that has mysteriously washed up in the desert sand. Continue reading