“Forget Wonder Woman, I’ve found my heroine”? Really? I mean… really? Ech, I’ll get into this in a minute.
The movie looks like it’s about this young woman who is out having fun with her friends at a party, and as she leaves, she gets sexually assaulted, probably raped. He is assisted by a random good Samaritan who tries to take her to the police to get something done about it, but I guess one, or some of the men that assaulted her were off-duty cops and the cops they talk to don’t believe that anything happened to her. I guess this sparks a revenge thriller where she goes around killing those that wronged her.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Mariam Al Ferjani and Ghanem Zrelli, both making their feature film debuts. Congrats, you two.
Now for the crew. I will not be referencing their previous work, as I won’t know what they’ve done, but here we go anyway. Gotta give credit where credit is due. Co-directing, we have Khaled Walid Barsaoui and Kaouther Ben Hania, who also wrote the screenplay. Composing the score is Amin Bouhafa. The cinematographer is Johan Holmquist. Finally, the editor is Nadia Ben Rachid.
Overall, this movie looks like it could be good, but this type of genre, a young woman who gets raped, or assaulted in some way, only to come around and start killing people has been done to death. This is basically a genre of exploitation. I never truly understand why movies like that get made, other than an excuse to see a young attractive woman have something horrible happen to her, and then cheer-worthy violence to follow as the attackers get their just desserts, I don’t know, man. If that’s your thing, that’s your thing, I’m not going to try and tell you you’re wrong. But I think this movie is going to be pretty dull, and that’s not how a movie about a woman being sexually assaulted should be handled. And I’m calling it, if there is a revenge thriller attached where the woman goes around killing cops, then I’m guessing it’s only going to happen in the final half hour at best. Unless this is based on a true story, then I don’t think this’ll be worth the whole, “Forget Wonder Woman” saying. I’ll have to keep an eye on that if this is based on a true story. I guess I’ll find out.
This is my honest opinion of: BEAUTY AND THE DOGS / AALA KAF IFRIT
Set in Tunisia. Mariam Chaouch (Mariam Al Ferjani) is a twenty-one year old woman who started her night with friends at a party. She meets a young man named Youssef (Ghanem Zrelli) and leaves with him. However, she is raped by a trio of police officers and though she manages to escape, she and Youssef begin a trek around town to report a crime that no one can help her with.
While it’s a far cry from a movie that I’d rather watch over WONDER WOMAN (2017), this is actually a surprisingly good film.
First and foremost, the acting is fantastic. There is never a point in time when I thought Al Ferjani wasn’t traumatized by what happened to Mariam and I was right there with Zrelli, who was getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of basic help and even just getting Mariam some simple empathy. Constantly, they’re getting stonewalled by red tape and legalities. How much bullshit is this: Mariam can’t be looked at by a local doctor without proper identification, which she doesn’t have, as she lost her purse in the car where she was raped. They won’t even really look at her. The larger hospitals are almost worse as the doctors and nurses are scrambling to take care of countless patients who have likely been waiting significantly longer for treatment themselves and who actually have documentation to prove who they are. Even when a nurse takes pity, Mariam is taken from one wrong doctor to another, until she finds the right one. But he can’t look at her unless she has not just proper documentation, but needs to be sent by the police after they’ve conducted an investigation of her allegations. And no, they aren’t any help because these are, like I predicted above, the kind of cops who think they’re the apostles of Christ and can get away with anything they want. They’re constantly making fun of her story, cracking jokes and the like, saying things like, “Look at how you’re dressed and you’re surprised you got raped?” You know, disgusting and detestable shit like that. Hell, even the female PREGNANT officer barely takes any pity on Mariam, even calling Mariam a whore at some point later. That’s all this movie is. One big merry-go-round of despair and Mariam never catches a break. But that’s arguably the best qualities it has going for it. I’ll explain why in the spoilers section.
Even Youssef doesn’t have it easy. If Mariam isn’t getting plastered with “slut” labels, he’s getting blamed for allowing her to get raped, even though he was handcuffed away from her. Yeah, the police are constantly belittling him by saying that if he were a real man, he would have been able to fight off her attackers. But because these monsters are making up scenarios in their heads to cover the collective asses of their colleagues, no one is safe from their taunts and lies in this movie.
On the more technical level, the film is really impressive because each new chapter of the story (they’re separated by 1. and 2. and 3. and so on) is done in one take, implying that there was likely countless hours of rehearsal and actual lengthy line memorization. I have so many questions. How long was the daily and overall film shoot as a result? How many takes for each chapter? Did the actors ever try to kill each other? But more importantly, the core pair of actors, Al Ferjani and Zrelli, are both newcomers and if they had to do more than a few takes, then this is an incredible showcase of talent, maintaining their energy for each scene. This, of course, applies to the supporting cast as well. So great directing, great writing, great camerawork, very well done everyone.
No one should make the mistake that this movie is some downer and depressing flick that will just leave a bitter taste in your mouth. I think if that’s how anybody feels about this, then they’ve missed the entire point of the film. In hindsight, there’s a reason why she’s mentally and emotionally beaten down on top of her physical injuries. The entire time that Youssef is with her, he keeps telling her to not sacrifice her rights, to not make deals, to not settle for any deals, and to keep fighting the system. By the end of the movie, that’s exactly what happens. The final trio of authority figures that surround her, despite having arrested the officers that raped her, threaten to arrest her if she tries to lawyer up and fight against the system. But she refuses their offer. She proclaims her rights and accepts their threat, but she’s not backing down from this. While the ending is ambiguous, the movie ends with the truest showcase of courage that I’ve seen this year.
This isn’t a complaint, necessarily, but I do have to raise my hand for questions. Bare in mind, I’m an uneducated American not cultured in the ways of other… er, cultures. So with that in mind, here are my questions. Are these things, in Tunisia? Like, a person really needs an ID card… for a certificate… to get medical help after being raped? Is… is that really a thing down there?! You need identification and a shit-ton of referrals from other sources for a doctor to look at a raped woman?! If that’s not true… then I have many unkind words for this movie. If this is indeed true, then I have many unkind words for Tunisian law, as that sounds like a special kind of fucked up.
Overall, this is a really good film. Perfectly acted, wonderfully shot, brilliant directing, it’s a nearly flawless package. I would argue that there are some character choices that I find highly questionable with very little explanation to help audiences understand them. Like, why doesn’t Mariam call her dad for help? Why does Mariam call Youssef her fiancé when it barely plays a part in anything? But I can’t deny that this is a wholly engaging story that had me gripping my arm rest the entire way through. I got angry, I got sad, I felt a sense of bittersweet triumph by the end of the movie, it’s definitely worth seeing. So on that note, I highly recommend this flick if you don’t mind your dark stories. It’s a hard watch, but in the best way possible. It’s an indie film, so it may be a little hard to find in your local cinemas, so if you can’t check it out there, look for it as a rental. I saw it once, but I’d be open to seeing again. Maybe not for repeat watching for decades to come, but here’s to a bright and successful future for everyone who made this movie.
My honest rating for BEAUTY AND THE DOGS / AALA KAF IFRIT: a strong 4/5
Next week’s reviews: