Tunisian cinema. The 1980’s/90’s

Tunisian cinema. The 1980’s/90’sIn the middle of the 1980’s a new wave and another generation emerge. The leading film of this period remains L'homme de cendres (Man of Ashes) of Nouri Bouzid produced in 1986, a year before the fall of Bourguiba’s regime. The disillusionment is at its peak and the filmmakers of the 1970s were silent for a while. They were either tired or converted to production. Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud, Naceur Khémir, Farid Boughédir and Moufida Tlatli arrive along the same period as Nouri Bouzid. All their films look into the past, not in a nostalgic way but with the desire to rehabilitate a distant past (Khémir) or deal with a more recent past (Bouzid Tlatli). Paradoxically, the disenchantment was largely due to the political failure of a form of modernity and to the social return of a Salafist religiosity accompanied by the weakening of the denial of foreign influence, that had now become less shameful. When we see the films of Bouzid, those of Khémir, those of Ben Mahmoud or those of Tlatli, we cannot help but detect in their differences, an aesthetic quality, a stylistic gap that distances us from the obsession for objectivity that marks the work of their predecessors. They are all marked by a personal and subjective tension, which recall the author’s concept. When he tries to define his aesthetic element, Nouri Bouzid does not hesitate to refer to Pasolini’s figure. Beyond it’s degree of relevance, this reference is of course a sign of a conscience or a desire to respond to a form of singularity as it has appeared in foreign cinema or at least, more than a desire to respond to a local, national or social necessity. The paradox of Khemir’s cinema is in the pretention that he proclaims and that is visible in his work, to restore a lost Arab Andalusian aesthetic in a general way that is nevertheless marked by a strong autobiographical inscription. In any case, unlike the first generation of films, that of the 1980’s and 90’s is more consciously placed in an artistic lineage; a lineage that is yet less abstract, that is more personal than ideological. We can say that the issue of the authors is more important here while in the West, it was dominant in the 1960’s. This is certainly related to the different histories that we mentioned here above but also to the conscience of a bigger solitude. Filmmakers are less organically related to the State (the disappearance of the Satpec, a public production structure was a major factor in 1981) but they don’t’ feel more solidarity with a public opinion with which they don’t share taboos. The criticism of the opinion’s authority replaces or is added to the criticism of the political regime. It is the slackness of these links that are stronger among previous generations that enables the coming to terms with the transcultural lineage. Nevertheless, the still present autobiographical dimension that is more pronounced in Boughédir’s work than Ben Mahmoud and Khémir’s does not reveal the influences coming from foreign filmmakers.

Tahar Chikhaoui
Translated to English by Elizabeth Grech

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