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Movies Halfouine TunisEvery once in a while the unexpected out does itself. In Halfouine, Ferid Boughedir’s small 1990 movie from Tunis not only do we enter with his quietly moving cameras into communal/family life in Tunis, but watch, perhaps as distant, interested uncles and aunts, as Noura [Selim Boughedir] grows from a young boy to a young man.  The film opens in the women’s bathhouse, his mother scrubbing him, his ten year old (?) eyes, as ours, taking everything in: big, small, wet, dry, naked, en-toweled.  By the time it’s over he’s been chased away by the watchful female owners, relived his own circumcision during his baby-brother’s big day (and what a party it is!), and been introduced to cuddling in the dark.

Along the way we get a taste of family dynamics with a doting mother and authority-anxious father, neighborhood friends a few years older who grin and whisper the secrets they are now privy too, and beg Noura for more detail from his insider position in the women’s world.  An intimidating young Sheik [Abdelhamid Gayess] brings a orphan girl to the family “to be raised as our own daughter,” dispenses mysterious medical advice and is the object of desire for one of the female residents.

Food preparation — not in an ultra-modern way– and a riotous scene of women talking and singing graphically of garden vegetables have a wonderful earthiness.  Noura’s expeditions around the neighborhood as everybody’s errand boy adds to our sense of place and time.

Selim is the son of director Férid Boughedir and the two have found an easy and companionable way of telling the story.  The father’s latest film, listed in IMDB, is Villa Jasmin,  released in 2008, without the son but with others in the Halfouine cast. “A compelling double love story about a French-Tunisian Jewish family. Henry returns to La Goulette, port of Tunisia, with his wife, in search of his family roots. The film explores his parent’s history from the 1920s, and the impact of the Vichy Government under German Occupation in the 1940s.” — Gotta find this one!

As western awareness of the Arab/Islam world is growing enormously out of balance through today’s headlines and fears, films like these help remind us of the daily lives of others, different from and similar to our own: comic and confused, worried parents and wide-eyed children, celebration, wonder, and just plain everyday life.  I spend some small amount of time seeking out movies and fiction from non-Western places, and making room for them in my “educational” hours.  Iranian film makers are widely regarded among movie serious audiences but these I’ve seen in the past years from Turkey, Iran, Egypt, and now several from Tunis show there are many stars in the Middle East movie firmament. I really liked this film.

A streaming version is available on Amazon Prime, though perhaps your local library or other sources can be found.