Tunisian film 'The Secrets' shocks Cairo film fest
By Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Cairo – 17/11/09
A Tunisian film chronicling a woman's struggle with sexuality and freedom is making waves at the 33rd Cairo International Film Festival, which began its 10-day run on Tuesday (November 10th). The festival is showcasing 150 films from 67 countries.
"Dawaha" ("The Secrets"), from director Raja Ammari, spurred controversy among theatre-goers when it was unveiled on the festival's opening night. The new work grapples with the issues of family control and violence and breaks new ground for Arab film. Two other Tunisian entries are being screened at the festival: "Thalathoun" from director Fadhel Jaziri and "Safra ma Ahlaha" from director Khaled Ghorbal.
"The film tried to show that suppression and oppression will only lead to violence," actress Rym El Benna said in a statement to Magharebia. Banna plays the role of Salma, a rebellious girl who forms a friendship with a mentally disabled woman.
"[The film] addresses the state of loss and bewilderment that women live in, something that made one of them resort to violence, killing as a last solution for expressing herself," she said. "However, I don't really believe that this is the real solution. I don't advocate violence; I tried throughout the film to make the logic of dialogue prevail."
In "Dawaha", the mentally disabled girl, Aicha, is born to a single mother in Tunisia. The film chronicles how her relationships with her mother and grandmother change after she becomes close to Salma, a liberal student. Both of Aicha's relatives have reservations about this new girl's presence in their lives, and try to hide further from the world in their dark enclave in a deserted palace. Tensions run high between the three main characters throughout the film, and climax when Aicha, in frustration, brutally kills both her mother and grandmother.
"I think that the events in the film could happen in any Arab country," said Wassila Dari, who plays the character of the mother. "The film just wanted to reveal the hidden and to pose the questions that are banned in Arab countries."
Egyptian director Issam Nahhas praised the film for its gripping portrayal of an emotional trauma. "Although the events of the film take place in just one place, I never felt bored for a single moment," said Nahhas. "The film was bold, in terms of directing and acting. All the actresses did exceptionally well; it's a daring work."
Festival attendees expressed admiration for the film's message, if not for the way Aicha ultimately articulates her anger.
"[The film had the audacity] that we need in our Arab countries, where many women feel that they are living in a big prison that prevents some of them from even going out on the street, and looks at them as just a body and nothing else," said Egyptian cinema enthusiast May Adli. "This creates many complexes in women, the most prominent of which are perhaps the sexual complexes."
"The act of violence committed by Aicha is the thing that many women think of deep inside, but I don't support that. Rather, I call on women to break their silence with the help of liberal men who acknowledge gender equality," said Adli.
Not all audience members embraced the film. Egyptian student Tarek Abou Khir was visibly upset by the work's head-on treatment of delicate themes.
"The film has violated all the taboos, and this can't be accepted in any country that respects our traditions and habits," he told Magharebia. "In addition, I found no reason for the nude scenes. I think the message that the film tried to convey was confused and didn't defend our Arab and Islamic values."
"Dawaha" was selected for recognition last year at the prestigious Venice Film Festival.
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