You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Berlin Film Review: ‘Hedi’

An adept and absorbing Tunisian drama about a shut-down young man ignited by a free-spirited woman.

Majd Mastoura, Rym Ben Messaoud, Sabah Bouzouita, Omnia Ben Ghali, Hakim Boumessaoudi, Arwa Ben Smail. (Arabic dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5011242/?ref_=nm_flmg_cin_2

A week before his marriage, a young man with no gumption meets a free-spirited woman who makes him feel alive in tyro helmer Mohamed Ben Attia’s adept and absorbing drama “Hedi.” Different audiences will have different takeaways: Those unacquainted with Tunisian current events will appreciate an intimate relationship film with characters they can cotton to, while others will spot not just the nation’s economic plight, but also pre- and post-Revolution parallels in terms of people numbly doing as they’ve always been told vs. those breaking free from expectation. Tunisian cinema is on a roll this season, and “Hedi” has the maturity (together with the Berlinale placement and the Dardenne brothers attached as co-producers) to successfully work the arthouse niche internationally.

Hedi (Majd Mastoura) is the very picture of a man listlessly treading the path laid out for him. He works for Peugeot selling cars to companies, but few are biting with the economic downturn. He’s also a lousy salesman with zero interest in what he’s doing. That extends not only to his work but also to his personal life: In one week he’ll marry Khedija (Omnia Ben Ghali), but for him there’s no spark.

Yet everything has been arranged by his mother, Baya (Sabah Bouzouita), just as everything has always been arranged by her. A strong-willed widow determined to keep Hedi close especially since her older son, Ahmed (Hakim Boumessaoudi), lives in France, Baya prepares the apartment upstairs to house the newlyweds, and probably has never thought to ask either child what he himself would want.

On a sales visit to the coastal city of Mahdia, Hedi meets Rim (Rym Ben Messaoud), an itinerant dancer and activities coordinator for tourists at hotels. Although he’s known Khedija for three years, he’s never been alone with her except for chaste rendezvous in his car; Rim’s easygoing physicality is a completely new experience, and they quickly begin an intense affair. It’s time for Hedi to make a decision on his own: Follow the globetrotting Rim, or settle down as expected.

On one level “Hedi” is a universal story, about a young man needing to choose between duty and passion. Yet to divorce it from its culture would diminish a great deal of what makes the film so rich and well observed. Though the film is set now, five years after the Revolution, Hedi is very much a figure from before: His life is a rote cycle of uninspired work and obedience to his overbearing mother (who can be seen as a stand-in for the state).

Khedija seems to be a lovely young woman (her character is the least developed), but has no ambition. Coming from a well-off traditional but non-religious family in the conservative city of Kairouan, she was raised without aspirations beyond a husband and children — she has nothing to talk about with Hedi, and wouldn’t dream of exchanging kisses before the wedding. Rim, with her visible though discreet tattoos, is the opposite: She’s five years older than Hedi, well traveled, independent and able to grasp at joy when it comes.

At one point Hedi talks about the Revolution, and how for three days attitudes completely changed, yet he wasn’t able to translate that into his personal life. His one dream was always dismissed: He longs to have his accomplished, surrealist graphic work published, but no one ever valued his drawings until Rim. She represents his personal revolution, a life of self-valorization, and Ben Attia includes a terrific dance scene in which Hedi completely loses himself to the music in a moment of total release.

After so many scenes of him appearing shut down, it’s tremendously satisfying to watch the character become a dynamic figure. His name itself is significant, as Hedi means calm, and Mastoura plays him with a sullen passivity until Rim opens his eyes to the possibility of enjoying life, on his own terms. Ben Massaoud’s natural, laid-back presence is the right unexaggerated counterpoint, with Bouzouita’s potently overbearing nature an equally powerful force.

Lensing by Frederic Noirhomme has an informal, freeform feel while being very carefully considered (though there are perhaps a few too many shots of the back of Hedi’s head, even if it’s designed to signal his impassive state). Large closeups heighten the sense of intimacy and closeness to the characters, while the widescreen allows Ben Attia to subtly remark on Tunisia’s economic problems, with empty hotels and beaches, and companies struggling in this terrorist age to get by without tourists.

Popular on Variety

Berlin Film Review: 'Hedi'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 12, 2016. Running time: 89 MIN. (Original title: “Inhebbek Hedi”)

Production: (Tunisia-Belgium-France) A Nomadis Images, Les Films du Fleuve, Tanit Films production, in association with Propaganda Prods., VOO, Be TV. (International sales: Luxbox, Paris.) Produced by Dora Bouchoucha Fourati. Executive producers, Lina Chaabane Menzli, Delphine Tomson. Co-producers, Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Nadim Cheikhrouha.

Crew: Directed, written by Mohamed Ben Attia. Camera (color, widescreen), Frederic Noirhomme; editors, Azza Chaabouni; Ghalya Lacroix, Hafedh Laaridhi; music, Omar Aloulou; production designer, Mohamed Denguezli; costume designer, Nedra Gribaa; sound, Faouzi Thabet; sound designer, Jean-Sebastien Garbe; associate producers, Imed Marzouk, Philippe Logie; assistant director, Caroline Tambour; casting, Nasreddine Ben Maati.

With: Majd Mastoura, Rym Ben Messaoud, Sabah Bouzouita, Omnia Ben Ghali, Hakim Boumessaoudi, Arwa Ben Smail. (Arabic dialogue)

More Film

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

  • Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider'

    Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider' Gets a Concert/Screening Premiere at Radio City

    In a year full of major 50th anniversary commemorations — from Woodstock to the moon landing — why not one for “Easy Rider,” Dennis Hopper’s hippie-biker flick that was released on July 14, 1969? That was the idea when a rep for Peter Fonda, who starred in the film as the laid-back Captain America, reached out [...]

  • Costa Gavras

    Costa-Gavras and Cast on Nationality, Identity, and Cinema

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Though he’s been based in Paris since 1955 and came up through the French film industry, director Costa-Gavras has never forgotten his roots. “Those who are born Greek,” said the Peloponnese-born filmmaker at a Saturday press conference,  “stay Greek all their lives.” The once-and-always Greek was not just in San Sebastian to [...]

  • Lorene Scafaria, Jennifer Lopez. Lorene Scafaria,

    'Hustlers' Director Lorene Scafaria: 'We Wanted to Treat It Like a Sports Movie'

    The star-studded cast of “Hustlers” didn’t just become strippers in the empowering female-helmed blockbuster — they also became athletes. When speaking to “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, “Hustlers” director Lorene Scafaria explained the extreme athleticism required of the movie’s leading actresses, who all had [...]

  • Jonathan Van NessLos Angeles Beautycon, Portrait

    Jonathan Van Ness Reveals HIV Diagnosis, Former Drug Addiction

    “Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness is getting vulnerable in his new memoir “Over the Top.” In a preview of his book with the New York Times, Van Ness opened up about his early struggles with sex and drug addiction as well as his experience with sexual assault, revealing that he was abused by an older [...]

  • 4127_D022_00003_RC(l-r.) Elizabeth McGovern stars as Lady

    Box Office: 'Downton Abbey' Dominating 'Ad Astra,' 'Rambo' With $31 Million Opening

    “Downton Abbey” is heading for a positively brilliant opening weekend after scoring $13.8 million in domestic ticket sales on Friday. If estimates hold, the feature film version of the popular British television show should take home approximately $31 million come Sunday, marking the biggest opening ever for distributor Focus Features and beating previous record holder [...]

  • Gully Boy to represent India in

    'Gully Boy' to Represent India In Oscars Race

    The Film Federation of India has chosen Zoya Akhtar’s “Gully Boy” as its entry in the Academy Awards’ international feature film category. The picture, a coming of age tale about an aspiring rapper in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum premiered at the Berlin film festival in February before opening to a wave of acclaim at home in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content