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Beauty and the Dogs tells not so pretty Tunisian rape tale

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Actress Mariam Al Ferjani in "Beauty and the Dogs" by Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania
Actress Mariam Al Ferjani in "Beauty and the Dogs" by Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania Festival de Cannes 2017

In this month’s Cinefile, Rosslyn Hyams' guests have both made films about feisty women characters. Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania's feature film Beauty and the Dogs, is about a rape case that became a national scandal in Tunisia. Meanwhile, the documentary Laetitia, by French director Julie Talon, follows a Women's Thai-Boxing champion.



The bright colour scheme in Kaouther Ben Hania's feature cloaks a dark story, but one that in real-life had a happy ending. "The former president apologised to the young woman and the family... the guilty policemen were sent to jail," recounts the young director who is currently working on a project revolving around the refugee/migrant issues.

The camera follows, and chases after, budding actress Mariam Ferjani in her states of disarray, despair and despondency, quickening and freezing the pace in a sequence of single-take shots from one enclosed space to another corridor. Ben Hania conjures a realistic nightmare sensation as the character Mariam, raped by police, confronts health workers and police in her bid for justice.

If she weren't encouraged by the young man who befriends her, Yusef played by Ghanem Zrelli, by one older police man. Some glimmers of kindness vanish into thin air as other characters "just do their job".

Aala Kaf Ifrit - the original title of the film - has an occasional brush with tedium amid moments of suspense as Mariam is repeatedly hustled, stumbles or runs from one small office to another. The mono-focus on Ferjani's character is at the same time, part of the film's strength and its biggest challenge.

Ferjani was a chance find on the web says Ben Hania. It was a fortunate meeting.

You can hear Kaouther Ban Hania talking about her film with just a click on the photo above.




If you don't like boxing, you may not necessarily dislike Julie Talon's film Laetitia.

Talon herself is not a fan, but she met the Womens' Thai Boxing World Champion when the winner was struggling to come to terms with life after attaining a peak.

The classically composed film is not a tender portrait. Talon candidly shows Laetitia's unpleasant, whining side. She also shows her determination, and how she wavers and fails. Most interestingly, she shows the mettle of her trainer Jean-Marie and all the men who help keep her going, who spar with her, her son's support.

Somewhere along the line, Talon's documentary Laetitia leaves boxing, even competition sport, in the ring, to ask instead more general questions about personal ambition, commitment and choices.

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