Good visuals and performance, despite some flaws

“A story of love and desire”: cinematic discoveries (film press file)

Despite their great importance and the wide space they occupy in international festivals and world films, films of the adolescence and adulthood stages are still completely neglected in the Arab film, for reasons that are unclear and unjustified, despite the fact that the majority of the population of the Arab region are adolescents and young adults. This total absence obscures the addressing of many social, economic, and psychological problems associated with these generations, which are forming and growing in a complex and complex world full of contradictions that stretch across the Arab world.

In her new “A Story of Love and Desire” – which was shown at the end of the “Critics Week” program during the 74th session (6-17 July 2021) of the Cannes Film Festival – the Tunisian Leila Bouzid addressed this topic addressed, which she had previously partially touched on In her first novel, “On the Pack of My Eyes” (2015), there is a struggle between two different generations and two different mentalities. An ambitious and liberated teenage girl who learns to see and recognize the world with her virgin heart, who strives to break all domination and control, in exchange for her mother, as an iconic symbol of Oriental society, with his rigid, archaic and closed minded. .

In “The Story of Love and Desire” (or “Majnoun Farah” according to the Arabic title), Leila Bouzid explores one of the dilemmas of the adolescence period, but with a completely different approach, characterized by depth and honesty to a great extent. . The story does not take place in the Arab world, nor is it about the youth of the region, but rather with an Arab generation born in the West, facing the problem of the first sexual experience in the lives of adolescents address and observe. the accompanying internal tension, where the conflict between mind, heart and body. The topic can be generalized to the younger or adolescent generations in the Arab world as a whole.

The confrontational theme of the film is one of its strengths, and also because its events revolve around a young man, not a girl, as the woman is always the focus of attention, as she, not the man, as fragile , appear shy. conservative, hesitant and closed. The new and thorny film is presented, and penetrates with confidence to regions not addressed by the Arab films.

Bouzid is not much concerned about politics and the economy, as she reviews the problems of body, soul and spirit, and their struggle with reason, thought, habits and education, by 18-year-old Ahmed (Sami Otelbali). French of Algerian descent, intelligent, shy, reserved and incredibly hesitant. He never had sex. He works part-time for a transportation company owned by his conservative cousin Karim (Belamine Abd al-Malik). He has no contact with the outside, far from the suburbs of Paris, one of which he lives.

At the Sorbonne he had his first external contact with the real French world. There he meets Farah (Zoubaida Belhaj Amour), a young woman with a magnetic personality, energetic, extrovert, open and playful, and a lover of life and learning about everything new. They happen to study Arabic literature together. The one gradually approaches the other, as they search for 12th-century literary texts specifically related to love, at the request of Professor Anne Morell (Aurelia Poti).

They are amazed by the richness of Arabic literature with a vast heritage of books of love, worship, fascination and desire. They examine “Al-Rawd al-Atir fi Nuzhat al-Khater” by Abu Abdullah Muhammad al-Nafzawi, “Tarjuman al-Ashwaq” by Ibn Arabi, a selection of Arabic poetry, and others. However, each of those who receive the “fragrant garden” is different from the others who receive it. From here, the film takes off, especially with Ahmed’s attraction to Farah, and his fascination with her.

With love and the hormones of adolescence, the body wakes up in search of something it does not yet know. Although Ahmed is literally overwhelmed by desire, he resists it, unlike Farah. For him, love is linked to purity and sanctification. Sexual desire is not a manifestation of it, but rather a shameful and incomplete act. This is confirmed by Ahmad at the hearing of the love story between Qais and Laila, and his condemnation of any material dimension of the relationship.

Gradually we get to know them more. Farah is free and free. Willing to acknowledge the desire and embrace it without complications. Ahmed dreams and mistakes and lives, imaginatively, with his desires. He struggles to deal with his first feelings. She knows where she’s coming from, what she wants, and has no identity problem. She is completely satisfied with her gender and origin, receptive to her Tunisian-Arab culture, and willing to live, learn and discover everything new. She does not feel out of place, scared or disconnected from the environment around her. Ahmed is the opposite: he is not reconciled with himself and his identity, and he knows nothing of his original homeland or of his culture. Even the Arabic language is ignorant, reading and writing. But he is lucky enough to meet that girl who is challenging for his fragile nature.

As his love for her increases, Ahmed’s entity is transformed. The relationship encourages him to reconsider his connection with himself, his culture, his family and his friends. Gradually he discovers himself, the love and his Arab culture. Out of his sincere love for Farah, he tries to find a balance between instinct and self-control, and the struggle between the heartbeat and the limitations of the mind and the virility of the body. Above all, explore his identity.

Thanks to her, he discovers Arab culture, literature and music. He asks questions to himself and his father. He seeks his origin. He opens himself to love and sensuality, and gradually frees himself from prejudice through the beauty of the word, the love of language, the enjoyment of music, and the embrace of instinct.

Farah’s personality is interesting: Where did the daughter of Arab culture come from with all this openness, initiation, daring and love of life? It is not explained by a “story of love and desire”. Leila Bouzid’s attempt to bring the love story between them on the level of the story of Majnoon Laila, or Qais’ love for Layla, and the poetry of the film, was not convincing, and did not go as planned. Also, quickly passing on social and educational factors, and staying completely away from religion, was not good at deepening the characters, but it did not disturb the balance of the film and the credibility of the characters.

“A Tale of Love and Desire” is good and moving, and it will resonate strongly and newly in Arab films in terms of approach, subject matter and treatment. It is also visually and functionally very good.

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