Amid the expected barrage of docus on 2011’s Arab Spring, “Rouge Parole” stands out as one of the few certain to have a life beyond the immediate burst of interest. That’s thanks to Elyes Baccar’s accomplished eye, sympathetic and intelligent ear, and a wide-ranging scope that goes beyond instant headlines. By traveling to towns throughout Tunisia, he achieves one of the goals of the revolution, to counter regionalism and show the struggle as a nationwide revolt against dictatorship. Fest play should be strong, and Euro satcast a near-certainty.
“Rouge Parole” is celebratory without being hysterical, and Baccar’s success partly lies in his ability to generate moments of emotional catharsis while remaining reasoned. A scene outside a Tunis bookshop showing passersby crying in disbelief that formerly banned books are displayed in the window grabs at the heart and mind, while a cut to locals wandering like tourists of their own history through the ruined residence of dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s hated in-laws reinforces the dazed shock of the revolution’s swift progression.
The docu is not strictly chronological, moving from place to place to highlight the roles played by people in the hinterlands. Sidi Bouzid is an obvious first stop after Tunis, since the central Tunisian town is considered the birthplace of the uprising following Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in December. While Bouazizi’s act is acknowledged as the revolution’s spark, Baccar places his terrible death in context by including the string of martyrdoms that followed, such as that of Houcine Neji, whose mother Om el Khir Neji carries a tragic dignity that’s hard to quantify.
Baccar takes his camera to other locales where brutal clashes with security forces resulted in a populace determined to overthrow the dictatorship: the Kerkennah Islands, Redayef, Kasserine and Thala, places largely ignored by the media outside Tunisia yet vital to the country’s sense of nationwide unity in rebellion. Heated discussions on the street and in meeting halls emotionally reveal the charged atmosphere as people try to come to grips with concepts like free speech and democracy and wonder how to process what it all means while actively supporting the Arab revolutions their actions inspired.
Baccar captures the watchful mood of the people by returning to sit-ins in the capital, where protesters kept up demands for the resignation of Ben Ali’s tainted successor, Mohammed Ghannouchi. Revolution requires constant vigilance, Baccar is saying, and it’s to be hoped the helmer will follow-up “Rouge Parole” with further docus charting the country’s progress toward democracy.