BEAUTY AND THE DOGS (AALA KAF IFRIT) (2017)
Starring Mariam Al Ferjani, Ghanem Zrelli, Noomane Hamda, Mohamed Akkari, Chedly Arfaoui, Anissa Daoud and Mourad Gharsalli.
Screenplay by Kaouther Ben Hania.
Directed by Kaouther Ben Hania.
Distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories. 100 minutes. Not Rated.
Beauty and the Dogs has a nightmare scenario which is particularly apt now in the time of the #MeToo movement. It takes a steely-eyed look at rape and oppression in the corrupt and unstable Tunisian regime, and it’s even more horrifying because it is apparently based on true stories. It is certainly not an easy film to watch, but it is a necessary and important one.
There has been a long and sad history of blaming the victim in cases of sexual assault. However, the case which is dramatized in Beauty and the Dogs is taking things to extremes. In this film, the woman is not only not helped or given justice, but she is mocked, disdained and put through further trauma when she tries to report the crime.
Of course, a big part of that is because the rapists were corrupt policemen.
We first meet Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani), a pretty young Muslim co-ed, in the bathroom of a party that she is throwing for her university. Her dress has gotten ripped and she has her roommate bring her another one. The roomie brings one of her own dresses, a little bit sexier than the modest Mariam is used to, but she looks and feels pretty in it. While at the party, she meets a handsome young man named Youseff (Ghanem Zrelli) and decides to take a walk by the beach with him.
The film cuts forward about an hour or two, where we find Mariam looking numbed, devastated and disheveled, running away from Youseff. He finally catches up with her and tries to calm her down, and we learn that when they were walking, they were pulled over by three men claiming to be policemen. While one of the men takes Youseff into the hotel and forces a bribe from him, the other two raped Mariam in the back seat of their car.
Youseff, who turns out to be an activist, wants to help Mariam find medical help and report the crime. However, they find nothing but apathy and red tape at the hospitals – which insist they can’t examine her until she reports the crime to the police. Naturally, when they go to the police claiming that other policemen they are greeted with hostility.
Then it turns out that the policemen who attacked her work in the precinct to which she is reporting the crime.
This begins a hell night for Mariam and Youseff, in which they are berated, intimidated, threatened, and mentally and physically beat down in an attempt to get her to drop the charges.
This searing film by Tunisian ex-patriot Kaouther Ben Hania – her first feature film after working in documentaries – is obviously a passion project for the director. Occasionally, the negativity against the poor victim almost feels like it must be somewhat exaggerated for dramatic effect. At least, I hope it is, for the sake of humanity.
The whole film is anchored by a fierce and devastating performance by Mariam Al Ferjani, who inhabits the part completely. From little gestures – after the attack Mariam is constantly fidgeting with her dress to try to cover up – to a searing final monologue, the performance is a stunner.
Beauty and the Dogs is an overwhelming and disturbing film, but it is an important, vital one.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2018 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 13, 2018.