Tunisian film wins awards at Berlin festival
Tunis - Inhebbek Hedi, from Tunisian director and scriptwriter Mohamed Ben Attia, won the Best First Feature Award at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival, the first Arabic film selected for the official competition in 20 years.
The film’s male lead, Tunisian actor Majd Mastoura, won the Silver Bear for best actor.
Inhebbek Hedi depicts the journey of a man of the same name, played by Mastoura, as he struggles at a dead-end job in the aftermath of the Tunisian revolution. Days before his wedding, which was arranged by his overbearing mother, he meets a free-spirited woman, played by Rym ben Messaoud, and a love affair ensues.
Ben Attia is a relative newcomer to Tunisian cinema. Inhebbek Hedi — I Love You, Hedi — is his first feature-length film after five shorts.
“Ever since I was a child, I was a fan of writing and films. I used to watch a lot of films but then I started college and had to study business for four years. It wasn’t until the stage of post-graduate studies that I studied audiovisual for a year,” Ben Attia said.
“Then I went back home and started working as a salesman for 12 years much like the character of the film, Inhebbek Hedi. I met Dora Bouchoucha, the film’s producer, who helped a lot in guiding me. I joined writing workshops and for the following four years. I worked on five short films.”
Ben Attila spent three years writing Inhebbek Hedi, which was filmed in May and June 2015.
“The character of the film is different from (my story). We share similarities but it was not based on me. We share the same career path. I started working as a salesman going from one place to another during an economic crisis since we had just had the revolution then, ” Ben Attia said.
“You go to sell cars from one place to another when people are not willing to buy them. I was familiar with that solitude that the character lived during that period and that self-questioning. That was the departure point for the film.”
Ben Attia expressed surprise and happiness at the festival awards and said they are sparks of hope for everyone in Tunisia and its cinema industry.
“I was enthralled to read all these beautiful posts about how people in Tunisia were so proud of the awards. I honestly haven’t had the chance to truly realise what is going or fully understand this happiness. It is almost unreal,” Ben Attia said.
“It is true that a lot of aspects of the film also talk about the possibility of realising our dreams. I believe that it is not naive to believe that everything is possible, that anything can happen. If one is passionate and sincere about something, it will take time to achieve one’s dream but one should not give up. We should continue working until you realise what you wanted to do.”
Ben Attia said the movie speaks for the concerns of the cinema industry and the Tunisian people as it exposes social taboos in relation to their political context. “I hear this from people now and we need this hope now,” he said. “Eventually, all is possible. All we need is to have more confidence in ourselves. The prize will open new doors for us. There is curiosity about the country now. People are interested in knowing certain things about the country.”
He said the secret of the success of the film is its subtle treatment of post-revolutionary Tunisia.
“The movie is about the journey of a person and this path is open for a second-level reading. It was not meant to be evident or highlighted that I am talking about our revolution. I appreciate that the movie was selected for its value as a film in itself than because of its context,” Ben Attia said.
“It is hard today to tell any story, any given story without referring to something related to our [lives]… We cannot alienate ourselves from what surrounds us. The context was implied.”
In his acceptance speech, Mastoura dedicated his Silver Bear for best actor to the Tunisian revolution and its martyrs.
“There wouldn’t have been liberty of expression without all the blood that has been shed in the revolution. I hope we continue being free and happy,” he said.