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'Arab Blues' • EIFF
Entertaining Tunisian Culture-Clash Comedy
Oct 08, 2019
amusing froth, kept all the more buoyant by Farahani's deadpan reactions and
immensely watchable face and fine comic timing from the rest of the
ensemble... --Hollywood Reporter
Coasts on the offhanded charm and sincerity of its star Golshifteh
Manèle Labidi Labbé's feature debut, Arab Blues, is a window into the cinematic history
of Tunisia, and successfully captures a country during changing times.
Arab Blues takes place in
Tunisia's vivacious capital city, Tunis, in the midst of dealing with major
changes culturally, economically and socially.
Labbé states in the film's press release that
one thing that inspired her to make the film was the
Tunisian population's psyche, post-revolution. "The abrupt fall of the
dictatorship had plunged the country into chaos and incertitude, provoking
anxiety and depression in some people. The months following the revolution
reminded me of the first months of psychotherapy" —
psychotherapy being the film's protagonist's career of
Farahani) is a 21st century woman living in a country whose culture
is often still seen as backwards. She's had a taste of
freedom while studying psychotherapy in France, but returns to Tunis to the
reception of an immigrant; she's an outsider in her own home.
A lot of the film's central conflict
comes from her neighbours' reception to her career. She wants to start her own
psychotherapy clinic, but they are, at first, unable or unwilling to understand
her practice. But as the film goes on, her clinic thrives, as the rest of the
film's colourful cast of characters begin to see value in what she is
is a comedy, and Selma's interactions with her patients are
where most of the humour lies. Her patients come to her with problems that are
often so over-the-top, you can't help but see humour in them, but the narrative
also provides a balance of severity to highlight issues that are common and of
proves a hand at physical comedy as well, and proves she is an ingeniously fluid
performer, as she portrays Selma's struggles with her identity
Selma's way of living is
unconventional. She has been able to live without being forced into marriage and
without feeling guilty for not having children. She likes her solitude and she
isn't apologetic about it. She's an incredibly interesting
and well-written character that brings out some complex culture clashes. And
through her work in other films such as Paterson
and Girls of the Sun, Farahani
is a talent not to be overlooked.
Labbé's biggest achievement as both writer and
director is creating a narrative that doesn't fall into traditional Hollywood
trappings. It easily could have turned that way in someone else's hands, but
Selma and her relationships with certain male characters don't
turn out the way the audience traditionally expects. Instead, it makes fun of
those rom-com tropes by reflecting on them, while at the same time, refusing to
adhere to them.
is a refreshing and entertaining comedy that
illustrates how integral humour is in Tunisian culture.
Director: Manèle Labidi
Farahani, Majd Mastoura, Aïsha Ben Miled
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