“A story of love and desire”, sentimental education according to Leyla Bouzid

All it takes is a few shots – the strangeness of drops of water on a glass wall, the truth of a flock of anonymous faces caught in a morning RER – to know that this film is going to take our breath away. Ahmed, 18, a Frenchman of non-Arabic-speaking Algerian origin brought up in a city, is taking a course in erotic Arabic literature at university. There he meets Farah, a Tunisian red-haired bombshell, with whom he runs to bookstores and the banks of the Seine at night. He falls madly in love with it, of course, but, prevented by the injunctions to which his culture assigns him, resists his desire. This closed young man from the suburbs, who watches porn on the sly, has not retained all the lessons given by his literature teacher (Aurélia Petit) – “In the twelfth century, desire is law, and enjoyment makes order”. He will have to open up to the Arabic language; to his father, an ex-journalist exiled in France during the dark years, now bitterly unemployed and head squatter of the family couch; to the beauty of these words, a wave of which sometimes submerges the entire screen.

An unusual depiction of the fourth generation with an immigrant background

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To best accompany this tale of apprenticeship and sentimental emancipation, the Tunisian Leyla Bouzid drew inspiration from the melancholy of Nan Goldin’s photographs and the postures magnified by the painter Egon Schiele. Ink stroke drawn on a back, Farah’s voluptuous dance on December 31 (she kisses Ahmed, he slips away), Ahmed’s trance at a wedding ceremony – his frustration overflows – the camera keeps skimming, caress his characters with a delicacy like no other. Here, when Ahmed yields to the exercise of a dreaded presentation (the oral, it will be understood, is not his strong point), it is to Farah that he addresses himself.

By questioning the relationship to virility, transmission, this great political and sensual film has the merit of giving an unusual representation of the fourth generation from immigration. It owes it to the intelligence of Leyla Bouzid’s script, the refinement of its staging and two captivating actors, Zbeida Belhajamor and Sami Outalbali, whose names we will have to learn to remember.

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“A story of love and desire”

Thursday May 12 at 8:55 p.m. on Canal+ Cinéma. Franco-Tunisian drama by Leyla Bouzid (2019). With Sami Outalbali, Zbeida Belhajamor, Aurélia Petit. 1h42. (Multicast and On Demand).

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