Guns and Roses

in 12th Luxor African Film Festival

by Mohamed Sayed Abdel Rehim

Masculinity and anti-masculinity in Al-Ghatra

The loud and distorted sound was the main reason which made the members of the jury of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) exclude the Tunisian documentary Al-Ghatra directed by Younes Ben Hajria—shown in the official competition of the 12th session of the Luxor African Film Festival—from their award tally. The film’s noise and the characters who sing—with their ill voices—poems at weddings in Tunisian cities caused this film to be rejected and excluded.

The film certainly needed to record these songs with a purer sound and more clearly, with better quality, so that we could listen and enjoy these religious and romantic poems. However, these shortcomings do not negate that we are faced with a good topic and a good way of presenting it.

Men here and women nowhere

The film deals with the Al Ghatra art form, a Tunisian art, where singers perform poems at weddings in pavilions erected in the open air. These spaces are filled with male listeners, who drink or play with guns, firing bullets in the air or on the ground in acrobatic and showy styles, while women listen from behind thick curtains and walls. In the beginning, the singers perform religious poems until late, but when the children go to sleep, the singers begin to chant flirting poems so that the men present watching and the absent women listening enjoy the love songs.

Director Younes Ben Hajria cleverly understands that this art, with all its crystal clear masculine manifestations, is merely a reflection of the fact that men are weak in front of their absent women. This whole art is just a show for those who listen in an attempt to be charmed by their voices, singing and poetry. As if the men imitate the male birds that stand in front of the females and sing while they spin and dance, in order to show the beauty of their feathers and the gracefulness of their bodies, to attract the attention of the females choosing their mates. The female in nature is the one who chooses her mate, while the males try in every way, through display or fighting between each other, to be chosen.

Indeed, we see the fascination of the singers, who were filmed at their homes, with birds, as they all have birds that are in small cages. We also witness their fascination with flowers, as they always put a small flower behind their ears. Most of them are old singers who have spent many years singing, longing to sing, and showing off.

Tenderness coated with violence

These delicate details certainly contrast with the apparent violence at weddings, where gunshots are fired in acrobatic ways. But this violence is itself an attempt to showcase a certain kind of masculinity facing women, as well as superiority among men. Each one of them tries to show that he is better than the others: better at shooting, better at dancing with guns, better at hosting guests, better at singing. This is why we see duos in this kind of art where two singers compete in front of the eyes of the men and through the ears of the women, to display their voices, poetry, and singing abilities.

All of these are desperate attempts to reveal masculinity, but these attempts fade away when chanting love songs begins at midnight. Songs that show the tenderness of fragility of the men, witnesses and listeners. And everyone understands that and knows the true essence of these poems and this poetry. Therefore, we find these historical incidents when one of the men understands that the singer is singing a poem that shows how he loves his sister, so he shoots the singer.

Documentaries are perhaps the most effective art in presenting this kind of art to us by not only showing its details but also revealing its secrets. Technical and symbolic secrets. As if documentaries are polished mirror that is capable of reflecting the image better than itself.

Mohamed Sayed Abdel Rehim
Edited by Savina Petkova