Veteran Tunisian helmer Nouri Bouzid’s film about the making of a terrorist works splendidly as long as the director sticks to the confused longings of an aimless young man who’s vulnerable to manipulation. Where “Making of” fails is in imagining the mindset of the manipulators. Less would definitely have been more, as pic bogs down in long passages of unconvincing verbal indoctrination. But the hot-button subject matter, a lively, organic sense of milieu and a brilliantly conceived and thesped central character could propel this Carthage fest Golden Tanit winner beyond the fest circuit, though reception in the Arab world looks iffy.
Twenty-five-year-old Bahta (Lotfi Abdelli) has no job, no degree and no prospects. His one passion is breakdancing, but even that outlet is regularly and violently repressed by the cops. His cab driver father disapproves of his idle ways and even his mother’s (Fatma Ben Saidane) fierce love seemingly cannot bestow self-worth on him. His girlfriend Souad (Afef Ben Mahmoud), fed up with Bahta’s shenanigans, is pursuing a singing career or another man or both.
The American invasion of Iraq not only closes the door to Europe, the traditional escape hatch for disenfranchised Tunisians, but reps a wholesale dissing of the Arab world and further humiliation of Bahta’s already fragile manhood.
Bahta’s latest rebellious stunt, stealing his cousin’s police uniform and theatrically lording it over patrons at a cafe, concludes with him on the run from real cops. The incident brings him to the attention of fundamentalists led by a funerary engraver (Lotfi Dziri), who offers the overgrown boy acceptance and advice in the form of misogynistic diatribes and tirades against “sinful” song, dance and art.
Though Bahta’s search for paternal acceptance and purpose makes his conversion halfway conceivable, the more Bouzid delves into the specifics of this inculcation, the less believable it becomes. Indeed, two overlong, talky scenes in a cemetery almost bring the proceedings to a dead halt, despite the camera’s restless circling and recircling in blunt imitation of the engraver’s supposedly hypnotic spiel.
It is at this moment that Bouzid breaks the fourth wall, suddenly introducing a video-shot pseudo-documentary on the “making of” the film itself, in which Abdelli storms off the set, claiming he was hired to portray a dancer, not a terrorist. Although he is worried the film will land him in trouble, Abdelli is coaxed back by director Bouzid, who carefully voices his belief that religion and politics should be kept separate. Eggshells abound.
But “Making of,” finally, is the story of a failed indoctrination. Bahta proves to be too much of a loose cannon to be easily persuaded, his frustrated desire for action and by-now totally messed-up thought processes leading him to unplanned and completely apolitical acts of violence.
The distance between “Making of” and, say, Hany Abu-Assad’s “Paradise Now,” is as great as the gulf between traditionally liberal Tunisia and Occupied Palestine. In Bouzid’s Tunisian context, suicide bombing seems a rather radical reaction to simple underemployment.
As little sympathy as Bouzid displays in his depiction of Islamic extremism, though, his appreciation of the tortured complexity and restlessness of Tunisian youth galvanizes the pic’s erratic itinerary, illuminated by Abdelli’s edgy, agonized performance (which garnered him an actor award at Carthage).
Tech credits are pro, as Michel Baudour’s lensing subtly mimes the hero’s widening and narrowing options and untamed energy without jitteriness.
Pic has been screening and making the fest rounds under the misspelled title “Making Off.”