As an unhappy man takes control of his destiny, so does a country in Hedi

At this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Tunisian drama Hedi won both the best first feature-film award, for director Mohamed Ben Attia, and best actor, for its star Majd Mastoura.

The film is an ambitious character study that tries to make sense of the so-called Jasmine Revolution of 2011 by telling the story of a man, Hedi, who is having serious doubts about getting married, with just a week to go before the ceremony.

 As with all the best films featuring stories that work as metaphors, audience enjoyment does not rely on a deep understanding of the underlying subtext. It also helps that two of the best exponents of this school of filmmaking, double Cannes Palme d’Or-winners Jean and Luc Dardenne, are co-producers – and Ben Attia seems to be an ­exemplary pupil.

“The first reading of the film, for those who do not know the history of Tunisia, is that this is the story of someone who is going through a depression and is confronted by the expectations of his family,” says Ben Attia. “He wants to be emancipated from the social code that his family imposes.”

Hedi, a car salesman, and not a very good one, is waiting for his impending wedding to Khedija (Omnia Ben Ghali). The event has been organised by his controlling mother, Baya (Sabah Bouzouita), a widow who expects them all to live under her roof. Hedi seems resigned to living under her dictat, until a work trip takes him to the coastal city of Mahdia, where he meets Rim (Rym Ben Messaoud), a free-­spirited, slightly older and more wanderlust-driven woman.

 Their developing friendship poses questions for the usually passive Hedi, who is forced to make a decision for what seems like the first time in his life. In this way, his story embodies a wider story about Tunisia.

“I like stories that are simple, but that behind them, they are more complicated,” says Ben Attia. “After the revolution, we had won a big moment of expression, but we had lost love, unfortunately. There is still violence.

 “So I wanted to tell this story, not to shock, but to give this sensibility and to recall this lack of love.”
Art life -The National – AE

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