Review: ‘The Magic Box’

A Tunisian film director with marital problems remembers his life as a child while planning an autobiographical movie in "The Magic Box," a small-scale, uneven, but generally likable film which will find acceptance at festivals over the coming months, with best theatrical results to be expected from Francophone and Arab territories.

A Tunisian film director with marital problems remembers his life as a child while planning an autobiographical movie in “The Magic Box,” a small-scale, uneven, but generally likable film which will find acceptance at festivals over the coming months, with best theatrical results to be expected from Francophone and Arab territories.

Raouf (Abdelatif Kechiche) lives in Tunis with his French wife, Lou (Marianne Basler) and their two children. The bloom is well and truly off the marriage; Lou is bored with life in Tunisia, and frequently goes off on drunken binges.

To escape his domestic problems, Raouf works on a screenplay about his own childhood in the small town of Kairouan. His strict, Orthodox father (Lotfi Bouchnak) often treats him harshly, and young Raouf (Medhi Rebii) seeks solace in the company of his maternal uncle Mansour (Hichem Rostom). Mansour, an easy-going charmer who works as a traveling movie projectionist, lives in a room in the local brothel, and introduces his nephew to the songs of Frank Sinatra and to the magical world of the cinema, much to his father’s horror and disgust.

Cutting between past and present, “The Magic Box” follows a fairly predictable path until the deus ex machina which concludes the pic. Scene in which the boy gets his first kiss from a girl his own age is touchingly handled, as is the boy’s curiosity when he hears sounds of passion emanating from the back of his uncle’s van.

Thesping is generally fine, but the film’s main asset is the extremely beautiful camerawork by Greek maestro Yorgos Arvanitis. Title refers to a vintage hand-held “movie” viewer given to Raouf as a gift from his uncle on the day of his circumcision.

The Magic Box

France-Tunisia

Production

An Atlas Entertainment (Paris)/Alya Films (Tunis) co-production. (International sales: Atlas Entertainment, Paris.) Produced by Malik Bencheghib, Ridha Behi. Executive producer, Hassine Soufi. Directed, written by Ridha Behi.

Crew

Camera (color), Yorgos Arvanitis; editor, France Duez; music, Lotfi Bouchnak; production designer, Taoufik Behi; sound (Dolby Digital), Fawzi Thabet; associate producers, Philippe Bednarek, Maurice Bir, Larbi Methamam; assistant director, Josette Barnetche. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (non-competing), Aug. 31, 2002. Running time: 88 MIN. Arabic & French dialogue.)

With

Lou - Marianne Basler Raouf as Adult - Abdelatif Kechiche Mansour - Hichem Rostom Father - Lotfi Bouchnak Raouf as Child - Medhi Rebii
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