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Tunisian Filmmaker Ferid Boughedir’s “Parfum de Printempts” – The Sweet Smell of Spring – Opens in Washington D.C.

April 18, 2016

Sweet Smell of SpringEileen Davis, Guest Blogger

The Tunisian Embassy and Filmfest DC collaborated this weekend and brought Ferid Boughedir to open his latest worldwide, “The Smell of Spring” (“Parfum de Printemps”) at Mazza Galleria Theater.  Quite a stir — the theater was packed both evenings, unusual for an Arab film in DC. In his remarks before each performance and the Q & A sessions after, Ferid displayed his brand of relaxed charm and intellectual intensity we’ve noted through the years.  He’s an engaging storyteller

He wove the history of the uprisings into a kind of tale told from an ancient time, to children….there were the poor people, the good people, the bad guys and young heroes and fantastic women. There was a mean dictator and his family whom the people finally one day forced to flee. Compromise was achieved and four brave groups came together and eventually won a Nobel;  and now, now there are outside forces and inner disagreements threatening to pull these good folks apart…….

And then the film itself…

In 2011 Tunisia, as the Arab Spring awakens, unemployed graduate Aziz, nicknamed Zizou (Zied Ayadi), travels from his Saharan village to the big city of Tunis in search of a job. From television aerial installation to political intrigue, this fresh-faced young Candide will learn the ways of the world, fall in love with the ravishing Aicha (Sara Hanachi), and become famous.

If there’s any humor to be found in a situation, Ferid will capture it; it enhances everything he does. He tosses together a lively group of characters in Tunis in the days just before the uprising in Sidi Bou Zid.  Souk workers sitting around after work with their Celtias gripe about “the family” and its latest offenses.  The wealthy toffs living up in Sidi Bou Said….a brother of Leila Trabelsi holds a young girl captive in his gated house.  A young hero come to town to look for work, ends up repairing satellite televisions and like Candide embarks on a journey through multiple layers of Tunis society.

Ferid Boughedir, at home, in La Marsa, Tunisia

Ferid Boughedir, at home, in La Marsa, Tunisia. (R. Prince photo)

Shades of literature throughout…the funny souk workers straight out of Midsummer Night’s Dream; Romeo and Juliet on the balcony; a good witch who helps and a bad witch who harms.  A signature Boughedir closing scene…the large white ship heading out to sea from the Bay of Tunis……. and a lot of action along the way. A dream of a film for actors and the actors are all Tunisian.  The lead role is played not by an actor at all but a simple expressive Tunisian tech worker who happened into a producer’s meeting one day.

And lest we submit to the cliché that “comic” equates with “trivial,” the drumbeat that propels the film is menace, the brutality of the Ben Ali chokehold on every character — Boughedir never lets you forget the police state that was Tunisia; his thugs are everywhere, every day.  Ferid himself takes on the cameo role of a hardheaded government operative who pays a call on the wife of a man imprisoned for opposition to the regime to threaten her and her daughters with eviction within the week if she can’t persuade the husband to “confess” and implicate friends. It’s the old story of oppressors and their downfall but Ferid gives us an intimate front-seat look at the way it happened here…..that little café where tired workers watch Ben Ali make that smarmy address and sudden inspiration propels them to their feet and out into the streets.

See it if you can.  See all of his films  — Un Eté à La Goulette; Halfouine Child of the Terraces; Villa Jasmin —- they’re all on Netflix and other online sources, and this one will be soon. Hoping it will be distributed throughout the states.

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Férid Boughedir is an award-winning Tunisian director and screenwriter, and for a long time was one of Africa and the Arab world’s best known critics; he is also an author of numerous books. Boughedir’s filmmaking career began with two documentaries about the new cinema coming out of Africa and the Arab world,Caméra d’Afrique (1983) and Caméra arabe (1987), which were both presented in the Official Selection at Cannes. His subsequent films include Villa Jasmin(2008), A Summer in La Goulette (1996), and Halfaouine: Boy of the Terraces (1990), his first fictional work. He served as director of the Carthage Film Festival in Tunis, where in 1990 he won the Tanit d’Or for Halfaouine.

Halfouine is available on line at You-Tube

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Eileen Davis lives in Washington DC. Once upon a time, a half century ago, she and I were in the Peace Corps in Tunisia at the same time, 1966-1968, she in Gabes, a town in Tunisia’s far south near the Libyan border, me in Tunis

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Ferid Boughedir is a life long friend. I have written about him elsewhere on this blog. 

 

 

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