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Hedi's Arab Spring

A Tunisian generational uprising springs from a blood-curdling love story. Can this bring liberation further?


There is a seemingly mundane scene that opens the film My Arab Spring. We are introduced to the protagonist, a young man named Hedi, while tying his tie. But this is not a randomly chosen everyday scene, for the tie will become an important symbol later in the film. It will reappear when the mother finds a tie from the deceased father's wardrobe. As an overly tight tie, Hedi's daily surroundings are about to suffocate him with meaninglessness, tie him in a soulless marriage and a hopeless sales career for French Peugeot. The monotonous and bland everyday life prevents him from living his big dream of becoming a cartoonist. But the first half of the film is as uneventful and with as dull design as Hedi's life, and thus has trouble keeping the viewer's attention. The film, which was originally a full hour longer than the movie version, could have successfully been cut even tighter.

This is Arab Generational Rebellion 50 years after James Dean and the Beatles.

Arab generational rebellion. "To be honest, I didn't like the distributor's title choices, My Arab Spring, ”Says filmmaker Mohamed Ben Attia.

Attia has made a love story about her protagonist Hedi. Narratively, it is a simple and recognizable story of a prospective groom who, on his timid and unsuccessful sales trip, just before the planned wedding with Khedija, hits Rym – a tempting and dancing beauty that represents some of what the Hedi miss in their own lives.

Should the Hedi follow his heart, or fall back into the drawn paths expected by both tradition, mother and the fragile and beautiful, but alas so little exciting Khedija? "What do you want with your life?" Hedi sighs to Khedija, and meets with silence. "What do you do after we have escaped to France?" He asks Rym, and gets no answer here either. It is with the people around him that the Hedi seek answers to the questions he should have asked himself. He seeks not least freedom from a dominant mother who wants to live on through the children. This is a tale of an Arab generational rebellion 50 years after the iconic western rebel James Dean and the Beatles.

Could Hedi just as easily have come from any western country? The most striking thing is how unprejudiced this Arab society is portrayed: there are no burqas or mosques, no prayers or Koranic demands. The man's gift to the bride and smoking a hookah are the most important elements that reveal a non-Western context. On the other hand, the film contains both hot sex scenes, kissing on the beach and free love encounters. Arabic film is apparently beginning to fall into patterns from Western film.

Anemic love drama. As a love story is My Arab Spring rather anemic, despite the impressive fact that actress Majd Mastoura received the Silver Bear at the Berlin Festival for her performance in the role of Hedi. The three female characters do not seem sufficiently developed. The film would not have had much to offer if it had not had overtones about the revolution. Hence the ambiguous title My Arab Spring stepped down on us by the distributor so that no one can avoid seeing the point they want to reach. Hedi's personal Arab spring is that he gets the chance to choose between the safe, home-loving and traditional on the one hand and the untried, exciting heart path on the other. In the same way, the rising generation must also choose between society's long-established paths or tempting, unknown terrain.

Filmmaker Attia is not afraid to challenge reactionary forces that also exist in post-revolutionary Tunisia. Can his brave portrayals help force liberation a few notches further? In any case, this is where the key to the film's success lies, and the reason why it has met with response and fertile ground in the wrestling climate in Arab environments. And there, the film and filmmaker Attia could be an important impetus in the future.

The movie goes to the movies.

Jones is the head of Networkers
South / North. jones@networkers.org

avatar photos
John Y. Jones
Cand. Philol, freelance journalist affiliated with MODERN TIMES

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