"Junun": The Emergence of the Word By Hassen Euchi

in 21st Fribourg International Film Festival

by Hassen Euchi

Strange worlds and upsetting situations are the features which always marked the world of Fadhel Jaibi, the director of Junun (Demencia). This film, originally a play by Fadhel Jaibi, was adapted to the cinema in the language of the creative madness typical of its creator. From the beginning the camera throws us into the heart of the intrigue and its obsessions: madness, violence, psychic power. From a large close-up on the eyes of Nun (Mohamed Ali Ben Jomaa) the camera passes to a mouth at a meeting with a psychiatrist (Jalila Baccar) who reveals all the intensity of the violence in his unconscious and expressed by his words: “I must kill to cut the throat of cross, strangle, burn, … I hate myself and I hate the women, these demons… it is what my father has passed on to me, and by the incapacity to control the acts of his hands, it’s not me who wants to kill, it’s him; it’s the voice living inside of me … my hand wants to burst my eyes.”

The character diagnosed schizophrenic lost any normal contact with the external world. He suffers from a family whose purpose is only to get rid of him by interning him in a psychiatric asylum. Nun, this young illiterate, underwent from his childhood all the forms of violence due to a Moslem father, paradoxically an alcoholic. This father managed only to found a family of patients and the marginal ones: former prisoners, pimps, prostitutes. After his death he remains omnipresent in the film with a photograph fixed on the wall of the house and Nun’s references each time he evokes his past. This violence is also due to an oppressive society: center of rectification, military service, prison. In contrast to all the other characters who are always frustrated, the female psychologist appears smiling and serene. Actually, she is also in conflict with the two archaic institutions being Nun’s family and the psychiatric institution. She is revolted by their incapacity to seize the human side of her patient and to adapt therapeutic methods to this situation. They are in fact institutions of control, punishment and consequently of repression.

The two principal protagonists of this film do not have anything in common. Nun is fixed to his past whereas the psychiatrist is leaning on her present and her future, except the desire to fighting against fate and castration; and that only by words. As a result the director conceived violent dialogues full of obscenities, metaphors and allegories questioning all patriarchal forms, religion and politics. It asserts the search for freedom. The freedom Nun mentioned at the beginning of the films (“Who am I? I am nothing”) ends up affirming at the end of the film (“I loved you and I hated you, like my father … now, I want to live upright”). All this tragedy, this evil of living, this individual and social disenchantment, proceeds in a very minimalist manner and in sordid and sinister places: the grayish colors reveal a great sensitivity to the visual art. Thus, the space of the private clinic can evoke only death. There only remains a strange tree as a metaphor of life planted in the middle and defying any isolation. The blue and red walls are sepulchral. “The emergence of the word” according to the author is the essential matter of the film. The world was created by the force of the words but words can alienate (the media, sermons). Thus words are the expression of life as the Tunisian poet Menaouer Smadeh says through Nun: “He speaks, suffers and dies in the words”. (Menaouer Smadeh, utopian poet, spent his last days in a psychiatric asylum.)

Junun is a poignant film with emotion and sensitivity. It explores the human beings by their feelings of love and hatred while challenging the viewers by its approach to violence, exclusion, the thirst for freedom and the patriarchal, religious and institutional power on the individual. So many questions are raised without Manichaeism. The film’s theatricality and minimalist production design reminds us of works such as Dogville by Lars von Trier. Fadhel Jaibi is a radical and provocative director who fights to break the taboo of mental illness, claiming that “schizophrenia is only social”.