Tunisian cinema. The years 2000
Tahar Chikhaoui - 11/11/2010
Things will radically change with the generation of the beginning of this 21st Century. We need to precise that since the years 2000, we don’t see the arrival of a new “wave”, as we usually say. A wave of the same importance of that of Ben Ammar, Ktari, Baccar in the 1970’s or that of Bouzid, Khémir, Ben Mahmoud and Tlatli in the 1980’s and 90’s. The disappearance of a post-satpec way of producing portrayed by Ahmed Baha Eddine Attia, the general digital use in all fabrication steps, the important market decrease, the closing down of cinemas and at the same time, the proliferation of cinema schools, the arrival of more and more young cinema fans lead to a less structured and less homogenous situation. We can hardly say that this situation is marked by a generation; there are however a few names which can be highlighted and among which the issue of the relation to the other can be analysed in a different way than in their predecessors’ work. The most important ones are Raja Amari, Jilani Saadi. The others are younger or of less importance. They will be discussed further on. The first point to make about them is that with them, the idea of political engagement almost comes to an end for good. At least, the idea of political engagement that has not ceased to mark Tunisian cinema since its origins. It’s not that they know nothing of political or ideological cinema but they consider artistic creativity outside the realm in which the previous works were often confined on different levels, of course. The issue of the inside and the outside changes completely with Raja Amari and Jilani Saadi and the difference between local and foreign fades away. This is probably due to the reasons that we mentioned here above, i.e. the lightness of digital film –certainly more true when it comes to Jilani Sadi than Raja Amari who continues to film in footage – the almost total disappearance of an internal market, the disintegration of the production system and the loss of the relevance of the ideological debate. In a certain way, their films are free of certain marks of local production. The space in which these films – and their authors- move, is a mixture of liberation and exile, a mixture made up of the local and the universal. This space is situated somewhere between the outside and the inside and this explains their strength and their weakness.
It is not surprising that the question that torments Raja Amari is that of filiation disorder, the disruption of genealogical succession, the daughter who shares her fiancé with her mother ( Satin Rouge ) and even worse, the confusion of identity with a tragic accent of the daughter with the sister ( Les secrets ). These are obviously the personal fantasies that belong to any artist but they do not seem to lack socio-cultural meanings. More than a personal influence that would link Amari to any specific foreign filmmaker, this is the echo referring to the Greek tragic structure, or to psychoanalysis, echoes that one rarely encounters in Tunisian cinema. If one had to consider Secrets from a transcultural perspective, one could discern a mixture of local filiation (let’s say, in the Moufida Tlatli’s way) with a “foreign” filiation made up of a mixture of enchanting literature (like Cindirella) and of genre cinema (horror films).
In a less visible way, Jilani Saadi also plays with different paradigms in a subtle way: Korma’s character is deeply inspired by the reality in Bizerta (a city in the North of Tunisia, Jilani Saadi’s place of birth) and also marked by strangely Christian features. The mixture is all so suprising that it is difficult to separate the local stratum which is yet so evident from the one that is inspired from Christianity which is also visible. What is suprising is the coherence of this all. In La tendresse du loup , the combination is even less visible. One has to look for it in the subtle composition of sexualit and affection. But the inextricable bond of erotic crudeness and sentimental romanticism can not be sought in an Arab cinematographic tradition which has always opposed them. The latest feature film by Jilani that has not been released yet, explores this pacified hybridity even further.
It would be a bit risky to label the younger generation as it is still young. We have not yet seen a film that is strong enough to enable us to construct an interpretation but we can put forward a few hypothesis. If we assess by choosing the most interesting filmmakers, especially those who revolve around Exit production (almost all of them have been trained at the ISSAM cinema school), one can note that what is true for Jilani, is even more to them. Whether we talk of documentary films, I especially think of the excellent one called Silence by Karim Souaki (the portait of an HIV positive man who became an activist in an association struggling against AIDS) or other fiction films (short films like Kharif and Le stade , the latter is still being finished, by Alla Eddine Slim), it is surprising to note how much the influence is open, particularly on a formal level. Beyond these few promising examples that keep us waiting for their outcome, a number of youngsters coming from schools, from the Federations of Amateur Filmmakers or independent filmmakers seem to go along with the current trend or with independent European, American, Asian cinema. A kind of cinema that has its eye on the work of Kusturika, Wan Kar Wai, Vincent Gallo and Werasethakul Apichatpung.
Translated to English by Elizabeth Grech