9th ALFILM Opens With Beauty and the Dogs

The 9th Arabic film festival opened last night with Beauty and the Dogs, a powerful and hard-hitting Tunisian film which tells the harrowing story of Mariam, a woman who has been attacked and raped by local policemen. She is plunged into a Kafkaesque nightmare in the hours which follow as she struggles to find justice or even a place where she is safe. The film had an unusual visual style in that each of the scenes in the film was shot in a single take, immersing the audience in the frightening and chatoic events it depicts.

© Ante Bußmann

The lead actress, Mariam Al Ferjani, was present at the screening. She is known for her work as a director as well as for acting. She became involved with the film when the director reached out to her directly via Facebook after seeing some of her previous work. One audience member asked how she had coped with making such a demanding film, not only in terms of the painful and extreme emotions it portrays, but also the technical difficulty of filming in extremely long takes. Mariam said that she achieved this by working on her physical memory of the spaces where the film takes place. She did this by visiting the locations before shooting began and spending time walking around them, building up an internal sense of how the spaces were laid out and how to move around them. She said that the process of actually filming was very difficult because if anyone made a mistake, it was not really possible to improvise, because doing so could confuse the other actors who were all working in unison, to a fixed script.

© Ante Bußmann

The story is based on a true case which was widely publicised in Tunisia. The victim was forced to leave the country and move to France shortly after the attack, partly due to the toxic attitudes she faced after the attack became widely publicised. Mariam Al Ferjani said that she did not meet the victim of the attack until after she had finished shooting the film, so the character she portrayed was not directly based on her conversations and experiences with this person.

© Khadija Babai

Given that the film is very critical of police corruption and violence in Tunisia, one person pointed out that filmmaking in this country is tightly controlled. They said that permission is even required from the ministry which controls policing and interior affairs. They asked therefore whether the film had been allowed to be screen in Tunisia and if so, how had it been received? Mariam said that strangely given its perspective, one of the biggest contributors to the film’s financing had been the Tunisian state. She said that the film has been a box office hit in that country and that it has even been shown at police academies to ignite a debate around corruption. One person asked how the police recruits had reacted to the film, but since none of the crew were present at the screenings, Mariam said it was impossible to know if or how it affected them.

© Khadija Babai