Baccar at Medfilm says Tunisia puts on pretty face for West

Tunis by Night director says society lost, depressed after 2011

13 November, 16:23

    (by Cristiana Missori)

    ROME - Behind the aura of an exemplary country, at the head of the so-called Arab revolutions, the Tunisia of today is quite far from the model that it offers up to public opinion, according to Tunisian director Elyes Baccar, who screened his second feature-length film, "Tunis by Night", at Rome's Medfilm Festival, which runs through November 18.

    "It uses makeup to make itself beautiful in the eyes of the West and in the eyes of its people, but behind the scenes things are different, because there's still a lot of cleaning up to do," Baccar said.

    Baccar has dedicated his three most recent works to the events of January 14, 2011, which brought the fall of former Tunisian president Ben Ali.

    "From the euphoria and hope that in principle were present in Tunisia, we've passed to the sensation of bewilderment due to the loss of reference points for society," he said.

    He said today practically no one speaks about the revolution anymore and even saying the word almost creates discomfort.

    "There have been 'acquis', in particular the consciousness of civil society," he said, but added that the hoped-for results of the revolution never came.

    "I don't think it's a question of time; it's the approach that was wrong," he said.

    "It's the absence of a political and social vision that brought the country to slowly slide into this sort of depression, this economic downturn that we find ourselves in," he said.

    Tunis by Night is set at the beginning of the Tunisian Revolution.

    It is narrated by Youssef, who has spent about 20 years working in state radio and is about to go into retirement.

    His wife, Amal, has undergone a mastectomy and is seeking refuge in prayer.

    Their two children belong to different worlds: Aziza lives in a punk-rock environment full of music and alcohol, while Amin is conservative and tries to bring Aziza back to the straight and narrow path in any way possible.

    "They represent the two souls that live within us," Beccar said, between conservatism and modernity. He said currently in Tunisia "we aren't in agreement on basic values that we want to promote together, on the type of society we want, if we want to put religion first, or education, or health, or vice-versa".

    "We aren't in agreement on anything and we don't have a common strategy," Beccar said, which he said is the reason why "we're not going and we won't go, in my opinion, anywhere".

    Tunis by Night, which is also the title of the radio programme that Youssef hosts, tells the story of a nocturnal, night-owl Tunisia.

    Baccal said at night, "Tunis is a city that wants to mask its ugliness thanks to the low light of its streets, so that it seems calm, mysterious, reserved".

    He said nights in the capital are, however, "full of life".

    "Many things happen after sundown in homes, in closed places, in nightclubs and in those alternative spaces that allow young people who don't have much money to have fun anyways," he said.

    He said drugs and alcohol are a part of life in Tunis just as everywhere in the world, and Aziza makes full use of them.

    "She embodies a certain part of the Tunisian female youth," said the 46-year-old director who dedicated his last film, Lost in Tunisia, to Tunisian women.

    "The women of this country continue to fight for their rights. The pressures are still very strong. The only tool to fight for a certain mentality is culture," he said.

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