Friday, March 23, 2018

Movie with Abe: Beauty and the Dogs

Beauty and the Dogs
Directed by Kaouther Ben Hania
Released March 23, 2018

The #metoo movement has unearthed many stories of sexual harassment, assault, and rape that were in many cases previously reported but then ultimately ignored. This cultural moment has revealed that, for as many perpetrators of such acts as there are, there have been just as many, if not more, enablers who either refused to do anything to help or took active steps to suppress reports of what they knew or suspected to have occurred. In a country where there are decency laws that include the prohibition of sexual relations outside marriage, exposing deplorable behavior is a considerably more cumbersome and seemingly impossible battle.

Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani) is a young Tunisian woman living in nearby dorms spending the night at a party. After she leaves with Youssef (Ghanem Zrelli), she is raped by two policemen. Missing her phone and her identification, she struggles, with Youssef’s help, to get anyone to listen to her, first going to a clinic, then the emergency room, and then the police station, where every person they encounter expresses either disinterest or immediately jumps to denial of her claims. Mariam, still traumatized by her experiences, is in shock but relentless, determined to get a report that will prove that she was raped so that she can sue the policemen who assaulted her.

This film is very relevant for the present moment, and poignant as a viewing experience in the United States for the way in which it isn’t nearly as different as it should be given its setting. Mariam is frazzled when, while her statement is being taken, she is asked how she knows Youssef, whom she has just met, because of her country’s laws. Yet pretty much everything else that happens involves a systematic denial of her grasp on the situation and, worse still, a vilifying of her behavior that might even justify, to those who talk down to her, what she has suffered. Coming from a female Tunisian director, this is a powerful story, but it’s one that should resonate everywhere.

Newcomer Al Ferjani delivers an entirely committed, lived-in performance as Mariam, so energetic and jovial at the start of the film and then so permanently scarred and unable to shake what she has been through and continues to experiences as more and more people refused to validate what she says. Those actors who portray the policemen who interrogate her so crudely deserve commendation for astonishing imitations of such horrific callousness and cruelty. This film, despite being divided into numbered sections, is a strong narrative that never seems to let up and remains entirely watchable as it delves into the ways in which people try to silence its main character, telling her story in a remarkably simple but tremendously effective manner.


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