New World View: Tunisia focus at the Zurich Film Festival

Ten years after the start of the Arab Spring, the Zurich Film Festival celebrates the flourishing of Tunisian cinema, with a special line-up of 13 must-watch features and a shorts programme.
New World View: Tunisia focus at the Zurich Film Festival

Tunisian films have a special place at the table of world cinema. Tunisian filmmakers are transgressive, bold, brave and unlike all others in the MENA region. I remember once asking Mohamed Ben Attia, whose Hedi screens as part of ZFF's cinematic journey, about the more risqué scenes in his work. He looked at me deadpan and said, I paraphrase of course, "we aren't afraid of sex in Tunisian films."

That said, Tunisian cinema also has a way to reinvent itself and simply labelling it after its country of origin can be a shortcoming. Someone like Oscar-nominated Kaouther Ben Hania (The Man Who Sold His Skin) makes films that each time look and feel different from her previous work, while Mehdi M Barsaoui's work -- A Son is included in the line-up -- is a film by a male feminist filmmaker. And don't even get me started about the haunting Streams by Mehdi Hmili, one of the most recent films in the Tunisia focus at ZFF, starring the stunning Afef Ben Mahmoud.

As the Zurich FF blurb about the programme wisely states, "Tunisia’s new generation of filmmakers is defined by stylistically diverse and innovative films, the contents of which not only makes use of the new freedoms found in the country’s social discourse, but also contribute to establishing those freedoms."

Included in the line-up are Ben Hania's Oscar-nominated film but also her previous work Beauty and the Dogs (2017, pictured above); Leila Bouzid's must-watch A Tale of Love and Desire which premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival; Dachra, by Abdelhamid Bouchnak, the first Tunisian horror film and a box office hit in the country; and Manele Labidi's Arab Blues, starring the spellbinding Golshifteh Farahani as a psychotherapist who returns to Tunis from France to open her own practice there.

For the full line-up, check out the Zurich Film Festival website.

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