Tunisian struggle with new freedom hits silver screen

Wed Oct 17, 2012 9:41am EDT
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By Raissa Kasolowsky

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Although Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled nearly two years ago, Tunisia's fight for freedom has only just begun, acclaimed Tunisian filmmaker Nouri Bouzid says in his latest film.

In "Hidden Beauties", Bouzid uses the Islamic veil to symbolise the struggle facing Tunisians now negotiating issues of religion, freedom and identity in the vacuum left in the aftermath of an uprising that ousted Ben Ali after 23 years running a model police state.

Bouzid's central characters are two young women, Aisha, who is veiled but struggling with her need for freedom and her desire for a young man, and her free-spirited friend Zainab, who is fighting a family that wants her to wear a veil and get married.

The film, part family drama, part love story, depicts the deep personal conflicts the revolution has brought to individuals, who, in the new-found freedom that they craved, are having to face up to the contradictions that were weighing on society and on them.

"You need something concrete in cinema, and the hijab is a good incarnation of this precarious freedom and the struggle for it," Bouzid told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

Bouzid, who previously spent time in prison for his political views, studied film in Brussels. His first feature, "Man of Ashes" in 1986 won the Un Certain Regard critics prize at the Cannes Film Festival. His other titles include "Bezness" (1992), "Clay Dolls" (2002) and "Making Of" (2006).

The role of Islam in government and society has emerged as the most divisive issue in Tunisia in the wake of Ben Ali's departure, which sparked revolts that brought changes of government in Libya, Egypt and Yemen.

The Islamist-led government that won elections in October is treading a fine line between conservatives who see the revolution as a chance to express a religious identity suppressed by Ben Ali and secularists who want to broaden freedom of expression.   Continued...