A hard-wired drama set among Tunis’ lowlifes, “Tender Is the Wolf” attempts to get under the skin of four layabouts who impulsively gang-rape a young woman they know. Viewers still with the film after this brutal scene follow the youths through a long night while they deal with the consequences. The emotional intensity offered by lead Mohamed Hassine Graya, who starred in director Jilani Saadi’s “Khorma,” is the main attraction in this slow, artsy film that will stir controversy for its sympathetic treatment of the rapists.
The four men are depicted as very individual losers, emphasized by their strikingly unique faces and carefully differentiated personalities. They hang out together out of sheer inertia and do things like cut themselves with a razor for kicks. Stoufa (Graya), who looks at least 30, is at war with his father because he can’t find a job. He’s the only one who doesn’t abuse Aziza, a garishly made-up dancer and likely part-time hooker.
Graya is a charismatic actor to watch, even when playing unconscious. Knocked out cold by Aziza’s vengeful brothers and stripped to his shorts, he is charitably carted across town in the dead of night by some street sweepers. Waking up in the hospital, he proceeds to walk home naked.
This is typical of a film full of scenes that look good but are not particularly logical. Next, enraged with the humiliation he has undergone at the hands of her brothers, Stoufa decides to take revenge on Aziza. An edgy but unconvincing love story ensues, leading the story into a dead end.
Mario De Casteniera’s camerawork generates a lot of nocturnal atmosphere when not tossing in unmotivated overhead video shots. The soundtrack is finely timed to the mellow Cape Verde sounds of singer Cesaria Evora, mentioned in the dialogue as Stoufa’s idol.