×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cannes Film Review: ‘Challat of Tunis’

Backward attitudes toward women are sharply sent up in Kaouther Ben Hania's audacious mockumentary.

With:
Jallel Dridi, Mohamed Slim Bouchiha, Narimene Saidane, Moufida Dridi, Abdelaziz Mzoughi, Taoufik Arfaouii, Maya Touati, Nahed Hamdi, Amani Adili, Nour El Houda Lakehal Kanouni, Chemseddine Mathlouthi, Mohamed Ali Jlassi, Asma Hami, Sofian El Fani. (Arabic, French dialogue)

Mockumentaries generally have culturally specific elements that play best to local audiences, and Kaouther Ben Hania’s hilarious and acerbic “Challat of Tunis” is a prime example. Ostensibly about the helmer’s search for a man who slashed 11 women from his motorbike back in 2003, the pic shines a discomfiting light on Tunisia’s attitudes toward women, using a fake-docu approach that many outside the Arab world won’t fully grasp, at least at the start. Foreknowledge should ease any hesitation at laughter, which means critical hype will be vital, though the film will work best with diasporan communities at targeted showcases.

Right from the start, with news footage from 2003 of then-president (dictator) Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali promising to ensure public stability, viewers should realize that the director is taking an ironic gander at her country’s problems. That was the year when a number of women were mysteriously slashed by a knife-wielding nutjob; fast-forward to 2013, and Ben Hania has a lead that the perp, popularly called the Challat of Tunis, is being let out of prison.

At the start, the movie plays like Ben Hania’s journey of discovery: She tries to find out who the Challat is, and interviews a woman who claims to have been slashed. With more than a touch of satire, the supposed victim is first seen in a detritus-strewn field, sunning herself in a bikini. When next seen, in her upper-middle-class kitchen, she explains that actually, she wasn’t attacked at all: Desperate to get a tattoo but forbidden by her older husband, she admits to having cut herself in order to convince hubby that she needed a tattoo to cover up the scar. The director also talks with men at a cafe, most of whom express support for the Challat’s actions, arguing that if a woman dresses immodestly, then she deserves what’s coming to her.

Resigned to not locating the Challat, Ben Hania holds an audition to find someone to play him in her movie; during the casting call, Jallel Dridi arrives claiming he’s the real deal. She tracks him down at home, where he expresses his undying love for his mom, Moufida, saying they don’t make ’em like they used to (maybe that’s why his cousin gives him a rubber doll). To ensure he chooses the right bride, he tries out the Virgin-o-meter (Japanese science and American technological know-how!), a side-splittingly clumsy device that requires that its antenna be dipped in a woman’s urine; as the marketing woman says, it’s “for the good of our people.”

Ben Hania knows that the most biting humor is the kind so close to home, it generates squirms of recognition as well as laughs. The Virgin-o-meter is one, and another is a videogame designed by Marwen (Mohamed Slim Bouchiha), in which players must slash only women whose heads are uncovered. Points are deducted for cutting hijab-wearing figures, prompting an imam to praise the game for demonstrating that devout people are protected. Of course it’s an utterly ridiculous statement, yet, as with Borat’s targets, one can assume the man being interviewed here is for real, as are several others who express solidarity with the legendary Challat for punishing immodesty.

At the pic’s end, Ben Hania speaks with women who really were slashed (it’s likely the incidents were copycat attacks and not the work of one man). Their troubling testimony is a sobering reminder that misogynist attitudes, so often justified via bastardized religious tenets, have tangible consequences. Satire is an excellent way to bring disquieting issues to the surface, and these last scenes ensure that the ugly face of sexism doesn’t disappear once the yuks end.

Though shot in a rough indie-docu style, complete with inelegant focal adjustments and handheld lensing that occasionally jiggles a little too much, it’s obvious Ben Hania and her d.p. Sofian El Fani know exactly what they’re doing and why. Editing, too, is spot-on, cleverly negotiating the right balance of absurdity and emotional weight.

Cannes Film Review: 'Challat of Tunis'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (ACID), May 24, 2014. (Also in 2013 Dubai Film Festival.) Running time: 89 MIN. (Original title: “Le Challat de Tunis”)

Production: (Tunisia-France-Canada) A Cinetelefilms, Sister Prods., Six Island Prods. production. (International sales: Jour2Fete, Paris.) Produced by Habib Attia, Julie Paratian. Co-producer, Paul Scherzer.

Crew: Directed, written by Kaouther Ben Hania. Camera (color), Sofian El Fani; editor, Nadia Ben Rachid; music, Benjamin Violet, Si Lemhaf; production designer, Sophie Abdelkafi; sound, Moez Cheikh, Melissa Petitjean; assistant director, Mehdi Barsaoui; casting, Chiraz Fradi.

With: Jallel Dridi, Mohamed Slim Bouchiha, Narimene Saidane, Moufida Dridi, Abdelaziz Mzoughi, Taoufik Arfaouii, Maya Touati, Nahed Hamdi, Amani Adili, Nour El Houda Lakehal Kanouni, Chemseddine Mathlouthi, Mohamed Ali Jlassi, Asma Hami, Sofian El Fani. (Arabic, French dialogue)

More Film

  • Kevin Costner Diane Lane

    Kevin Costner, Diane Lane to Reunite in Suspense Thriller 'Let Him Go'

    Focus Features has tapped Kevin Costner and Diane Lane to star as a husband and wife in the suspense thriller “Let Him Go.” The two also collaborated on “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Thomas Bezucha (“The Family Stone”) is set to direct his own screenplay, based on Larry Watson’s novel [...]

  • Chris Hemsworth Hulk Hogan

    Chris Hemsworth to Play Hulk Hogan in Biopic for Netflix

    Netflix is in the early stages of developing a Hulk Hogan biopic with Chris Hemsworth attached to star as the wrestling legend and produce. Netflix has obtained the exclusive life rights and consulting services from Terry Gene Bollea AKA Hulk Hogan. Todd Phillips, whose credits include “War Dogs” and “The Hangover” trilogy, is attached to [...]

  • Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant

    Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant Winners

    Swedish documentary filmmaker Anastasia Kirillova and “Negative Space” co-directors Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter are among the filmmakers who will receive grants from Rooftop Films to help complete their upcoming projects. Kirilova will be awarded $20,000 to finish her film, “In the Shadows of Love,” while collaborators Kuwahata and Porter will receive $10,000 for “Dandelion [...]

  • Jim Gianopulos

    Paramount Chief Jim Gianopulos Unveils Diversity Initiative

    Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos has announced that all studio productions will be required to complete a plan to enhance diversity. Wednesday’s reveal follows Paramount’s commitment to participating in Time’s Up and Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s 4% Challenge. The name is derived from women having directed only 4% of the country’s top grossing movies [...]

  • Leave No Trace

    Oscar Analysts Are Sincere -- but Often Totally Wrong

    With Oscars arriving Feb. 24, we can expect multiple “who will win/who should win” columns. There will also be a flurry of post-show analyses about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and why members voted the way they did. Since AMPAS never releases polls or voting tallies, these pundits will never be contradicted [...]

  • Green Book spiderman into the spider

    On Eve of Oscars, Variety’s Film Experts Answer Three Pressing Questions

    We continue to live in a divided world, with the current political landscape in the United States a seemingly endless hotbed of tumult and acrimony. Issues of racism, bigotry, diversity and gender equality drive the creative players as well, with Oscar-nominated films parlaying said themes into compelling, thought-provoking cinema. To analyze 2018 in big-screen entertainment, [...]

  • Karl Lagerfeld'Lagerfeld Confidential' Photocall at the

    Karl Lagerfeld Remembered at Costume Designers Guild Awards

    The death of fashion and costume designer Karl Lagerfeld cast somewhat of a shadow over the usually jubilant Costume Designers Guild Awards — the only award show where clothes literally steal the spotlight away from actors — which was held at the Beverly Hilton on Tuesday night. Here it was obvious that Lagerfeld’s impact on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content