In Carthage Beats the Heart of Africa

in 26th Carthage Film Festival

by Roberto Tirapelle

Cinématographiques Journées de Carthage, now in its 26th edition, is the oldest Arab-African film festival. The festival attempts to continue the vision of its founder, film critic Tahar Cheriaa. The feature films in competition opened some “windows” onto the African continent.

In As I Open My Eyes (À peine j’ouvre les yeux), the desire for change in Tunisia is depicted. According to director Leyla Bouzid, in the summer of 2010, a few months before the revolution, “there was a special atmosphere, the feeling of being at a dead end and that something, at any moment, was going to explode. Young people were in turmoil, expressing their resistance through music, blogging, the internet, and their own existence.” From these young people came the thrust of the Arab Spring, the leitmotif which inspired the film. One of these individuals is the film’s protagonist, Farah (Baya Madhaffar). Farah experiences pressure from her family, who are aware of the perils threatened by the omnipresent Tunisian State Police. She is the symbol of a generation which resists day by day and wants to have a voice in society.

In Le Puits, by Algerian filmmaker Lofti Bouchouchi, 75 years of French domination are expressed in the characters’ declamations. The film provides a powerful metaphor for anti-colonialism, as a population unites in hieratic solemnity to face the enemy. Almost everything works in this movie: the actors, scenery, music, script, and the film’s simplicity.

In Eye of the Storm (L’oeil du cyclone) by Sékou Traoré, we get a glimpse of Burkina Faso, a country in the grip of a civil war. The film compares the differing attitudes of a young public defender and a rebel guilty of war crimes. It depicts a complex, lengthy war as a delicate game of chess between two opposed protagonists. The rebel is silent, dark and captious, while the lawyer is gently idealistic. Maimona N’Diaye, who won best actress at the festival, gives an excellent performance.

Another noteworthy film is Our House (O Ka) by the talented Malian director Souleymane Cissé. This is an autobiography of many voices, depicting a family who were forced by police to leave their childhood home in 2008. Many of the sequences focus on women; the film traces generations of majestic Malians. Signs of hope are seen in education and the new direction of power.

The Moroccan film Much Loved by Nabil Ayouch deals with the issue of women as oppressed objects of desire and violence. This is a film to watch carefully, and not just from a voyeuristic perspective. The Maghreb way of life makes use of and yet condemns desire. The film’s message is clear: the humiliation of women does not affect their dignity. Banned in its home country, the film received its Arab and African premiere here.

The Ethiopian film Difret by Zeresenay Mehari also deals with oppression, invoking ancestral traditions which involve women. Fourteen-year-old Hirut lives in a village in Addis Ababa. She is kidnapped, as tradition prescribes, for marriage. She escapes and kills her attacker. The film does a good job of looking at the forces of law and justice.

The Moroccan film The Blind Orchestra (Les orchestras des aveugles) by Mohamed Mouftakir focuses on Houcine, the director of a popular orchestra whose musicians pretend to be blind in order to play at parties attended by women. The film has a clean, flowing look; its tone is delicious and smooth with a touch of irony. The protagonist has been a fan of the ruler of Morocco, Hassan II, from the start of the king’s reign – and even during his capitulation. He is also the father of Mimou, a boy who is falling in love. In all these emotions and utopias beats the heart of Africa.

Edited by Lesley Chow