A Story of a Change Not Yet at Hand

in 66th Berlin International Film Festival

by Mohammed Rouda

“Hedi” (“Inhebbek Hedi” which means “Love you, Hedi”)  is not a breakthrough in artistic film making on any level. Yet, it’s a good film with a share of a few weak parts here and there, telling a conventional story treated aimed, at once, towards festival spots, and everyday film goers.

It’s the story of Hedi, (Majid Mastoura, who won best actor award), a young man who works in Peugeot company and lives with his mother who has been taking care of him even after reaching maturity.  She has planned his life from the get go.  Her other son, Hedi, has been living in France and married, to her dissatisfaction, to a French woman. At the beginning, Hedi has no complains. His mother had arranged for him to marry the girl next door. He knows the shy girl, of course, but they never left his car which they meet in  every time they need to talk to each other privately. The car is always parked close to their homes. For three years, Hedi later acknowledges, they have done nothing but talking. No touches, no kisses and without moving the relationship from this bare limit to a deeper one.  Finally, he puts it directly to her: “You  still don’t even know me”.

Prior to that, his company decides one day, just before his coming wedding, to send him off to a sea resort town to help selling cars to companies there. A mission he starts but quickly neglects once he meets an attractive tourist guide called Rim (Rym Ben Massaoud). She is older a bit. She has more experience and she falls in love with him. For her, he is so innocent. For him, the relationship  is the beginning of an entire menu of his life- though not in a happy jolly way as he hoped. He now sees how his mother has manipulated his life, and that he can’t marry someone who never knew for real.

Yet, the film is not about the mother-son relationship in the first place. It’s rather used to describe the reason behind his failure to achieve freedom even when the time is there. The family traditions that he cannot neglect, not while his brother is backing up to leave for France again and their mother will be left alone if Hedi just does the same and leaves with his new found love.

There fore  the nding is not a happy song whistled all the way home afterwords. Hedi  finds, rather  the hard way, that it’s not so easy to change what is being set up.  Not possible, for him at least, to start  a new direction in life start  without any attachments. He has lost the woman he thought will seek through her his liberation, realising that the messy spot he is in is bigger than his ability to survive it.

What director Mohamed Bin Attia has done to this, otherwise very classical boy-meets-girl, boy-losses- girl stuff, is to find a heaviness to its treatment that could switch it from the conventional tale to a more of a social drama. The film  stays a love story but one that is not romantic and free of promises and hopes. The treatment buckles nicely with the situation in Tunisia and some other countries in the Arab world. Five years after what has been called “revolution”, which fell short of the changes that are needed to move the country forwards, the controlling means over the future of most is still in the different hands of  authorities whether social, governmental or religious. The director doesn’t dig deep enough in any of these elements, but successfully draw the back images of a society that cries for a change (resembled by the main character himself). The mother in the film is a metaphor of that multiple authority and could be considered mother-Tunisia at large.

Artistically, the film  (which also won Silver Bear for a first feature) is limited to its desire to be inspiring to the mass audience. The director tends to stay connected to what his audience, mostly young people who could understand what the film is about (and what its hero is going through)  will prefer to watch. Some repeated scenes of Hedi driving between the two town constantly tires the narrative a bit, but the camera (handled by French DOP Frederic Noirhomme) is well used all the way through and illuminates the entire atmosphere on the different locations provided.

Recently, one has to say, there has been a healthy movement among young Arab film makers to reflect on what’s going on around them.  Unlike what it may seems, these efforts has been always there way before the 2010 revolutions. Egyptian cinema, being the wider attended for so many decades, had its share of attempts to re-evaluate the social status quo and criticising aspects of local traditions and socio-political conceptions. Lebanese cinema, along with films from the Gulf and North Africa regions presented many pictures that reflects hard hitting questions about recent years realities.

What happened in most cases is forming a new voice which is trying to concentrate on how such contents should be deplored and reflected. One of the best examples was witnessed in Berlin Film Festival this year with the first feature film of Thamer El Saeed’s “The Last of City Days” (“Ahker Ayam El Madina”). It’s a totally different effort (and more artistically driven one than “Hedi”) though it shares  the same stream “Hedi” dwells in.

Mohammed Rouda