b. 1945, Sfax, Tunisia

Nouri BouzidNouri Bouzid is Tunisia’s most prominent and prolific filmmaker. In a small nation, with limited production opportunities, Bouzid has completed seven features between 1986 and 2013. His prominence, and for some Tunisians his notoriety, is largely based upon his reputation for broaching taboo and challenging subject matter, such as child abuse in his acclaimed debut film Man of Ashes (Rih essed, 1986), male prostitution in Bezness (1992), and exploitative domestic servitude in Clay Dolls (Poupées d’argile, 2002). Like many of his generation of Tunisian filmmakers, Bouzid studied in Western Europe, in his case during the late 1960s and early 1970s at INSAS (Institut National Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle) in Brussels. Since the mid-1990s he has taught at EDAC (L’École des Arts et du Cinéma), Tunis’ film school. In Bouzid’s published articles and lectures, and in interviews, his primary references are to art cinema, both its canonised European variants, and more recent examples drawn from the Arab world. Bouzid’s own work has appeared at many of the prestigious festivals, such as Cannes, Berlin, Namur and Carthage, which showcase such films.

David Andrews has recently argued that the ‘increasing auteurism’ of the ‘postnational system’ of a globalised festival circuit, legitimated in part by auteurist ‘crossover forums’, such as Senses of Cinema, to which both academics and more mainstream critics contribute, belies industrial constraints such as ‘formulae approved by festival directors’. (1) Andrews takes care to emphasise that these formulae are relatively flexible, since the global art cinema circuit is in part predicated upon the promotion of what is supposedly new and innovative. Bouzid’s discussion of his ‘infatuation’ with plan-séquences, the prime example of which is It’s Scheherazade We’re Killing, his sixteen minute single shot contribution to the omnibus film The Gulf War…What Next? (1993), is relevant within this context. This stylistic preference may be one of the reasons why Bouzid’s work has been accepted into the international festival circuit. The plan-séquence, diversely utilised, has of course been a staple of a significant swathe of global art cinema, from Roberto Rossellini to Béla Tarr. Bouzid argues there is a danger of this shooting style becoming a mannerism, signifying but not achieving ‘art’, when he uses the term ‘snobisme’ to describe its use in the later work of Abbas Kiarostami. He distinguishes this from what he sees as its more dramatically rigorous deployment in Theodoros Angelopoulos’ and indeed his own work. (2)

Another characteristic of Bouzid’s films is male protagonists who are, in his words, ‘lost and confused’ and ‘plagued with a set of dilemmas that shake [them] to the core’. (3) For example, Hechmi’s reluctance in Man of Ashes to proceed with his impending marriage gradually intensifies throughout the relatively episodic narrative. The past breaks into the present through painful, involuntary flashbacks to the trauma of Hechmi and his close friend Farfat being abused as children. The two friends have no clearly defined or articulated goal in Man of Ashes, although the legacy of their past culminates in Farfat ultimately stabbing their former abuser. In some respects, the protagonists in Man of Ashes and the majority of Bouzid’s films conform to David Bordwell’s argument that ‘the characters of the art cinema lack defined desires or goals…or may question themselves about their goals’. (4) Yet Bouzid insists his approach to characterisation is first and foremost rooted in a specific context of political and cultural crisis, precipitated by Israel’s defeat of several Arab nations in the Six Day War (1967), and by the Lebanese civil war and Israeli invasion (1975-1990). In his view, these events were tipping points that ‘awakened the Arabs from their dreaming, shaking their faith in all the nationalistic slogans’ and ‘upsetting any sense of confidence that had been engendered in the people’. (5) For Bouzid, this cultural milieu shapes progressive Arab films more fundamentally than abstract narrational norms inherited from certain traditions of art cinema.

In Le Syndrome Bourguiba, published in 1992, the Tunisian intellectual Aziz Krichen developed an analysis of Bouzid’s early work that has directly or indirectly influenced much subsequent critical commentary on it. Krichen argued that Man of Ashes and Golden Horsehoes (Safa’ih min dhahab, 1989) proved to be compelling for diverse Tunisian publics because they tapped into deep currents within Tunisian culture. In Krichen’s neat analysis, Youssef Soltane, the forty-something Leftist intellectual just released from prison in the latter film, is an older version of Hechmi in the former. Both of them, a father and a son, are psychologically mutilated by the ‘crisis of filiation’ rooted in Tunisian colonial and post-independence history. (6) For Krichen this crisis is exemplified in the mutually destructive relationship between the mythic yet also monstrous figure of Habib Bourguiba, first president of the Tunisian republic (1956-87), and Bouzid’s generation, in their twenties during the 1960s, described by Nouri Gana, another Tunisian intellectual, as ‘Bourguiba’s sons’ who rebelled against his patriarchal authority. (7) Hechmi is at odds with his biological father in Man of Ashes, while his alter ego Farfat kills the monstrous father figure Ameur. Krichen suggests that Hechmi’s sole positive relationship with a father figure, the elderly Tunisian Jew Mr Levy, who dies shortly after his appearance in the film, is a sign of Hechmi’s alienation from the norms of his own community. There is no simple resolution to the ‘crisis of filiation’. This cultural dsyfunction is perpetuated in Golden Horseshoes. Youssef is a failed father who has effectively abandoned his children. His personal and political impasse leads him to commit suicide at the end of the film. Krichen’s analysis of Bouzid’s work has been at least partially validated by the director himself, in comments such as ‘the attitude that the father is sacred and the difficulty of ridding oneself of him is present in all the films I’ve made’. (8)

Krichen writes of ‘a hidden level, a painful underground tension that constitutes the ultimate truth’ of Man of Ashes and Golden Horseshoes. (9) This is again endorsed by Bouzid when he writes that in his films ‘I’ve worked through pain’. (10) Although they were subject to censorship, the torture sequences that erupt from Youssef’s past in the semi-autobiographical Golden Horseshoes are relatively graphic instances of this. (11) Yet the mood in Bouzid’s films is not unremittingly grim. He writes of being ‘all for a cinema of the body’, and of wanting to show, even in Golden Horseshoes, ‘the body in both guises: broken by torture and transported by joy’. (12) One motif that recurs throughout Bouzid’s films is protagonists unexpectedly abandoning their pain for brief moments, freeing their bodies for dance, comedy, or physical expressions of liberation. In the first part of Bezness the troubled gigolo Roufa executes a graceful star jump in front of an oncoming commuter train when crossing its path; both Roufa and the subdued Amina dance up and down a few steps in brief sequences in Bezness and Bent Familia (aka Tunisiennes, 1997) respectively; in Making Of (2006) the dancer Bahta performs what can only be described as a camp comedy routine, moonwalking to a stunned coffee shop audience in a purloined police uniform. Is it too great a leap to connect this element of Bouzid’s work to Rasha Salti’s argument that, in amateur footage produced by insurgents in the Syrian uprising (2011-), ‘the crucible of this reclaiming of political agency, rearticulating of the civic self, and forging of a new body politic is the body’, particularly through dancing in street protests, which ‘stands in stark contrast to the regime’s reactions, the ruthless organized military counterattacks’? (13)

Bouzid has argued that the penultimate sequence in Golden Horseshoes, where the Leftist intellectual Youssef accosts his fundamentalist butcher brother Abdallah in an abattoir is ‘one of the strongest moments in the film and I’d have made the whole thing for that one moment alone’. (14) This sequence does indeed epitomise some of the distinctive qualities of Bouzid’s work. It quickens the pace of physical action as the narrative draws to a close while maintaining the constrained atmosphere sustained throughout the film. The clash is between two inadequate father figures. Bouzid is a scriptwriter as well as director and the dialogue is sharp. Youssef approaches Abdallah to ask for his share of their father’s inheritance so that his son, who he has hitherto neglected, can go to France. Abdallah disparages francophone Tunisians and expresses disapproval of Youssef’s daughters’ lifestyles. The argument shifts to politics. Abdallah accuses Youssef and all Leftists of naively believing they can win power through words without action, whereas Youssef exclaims, in one of the closest facial framings in a mobile plan-séquence lasting more than two and half minutes, that fundamentalists have turned politics into a religion with no room for doubt: ‘I need to be able to dream, to be sensitive, not dead’. The colour scheme mixes browns, blood smeared across stark white walls and Abdallah’s overalls, and some background black. The brothers’ physical actions transmute residual affection into aggression, for example when Abdallah rests his arms on each side of Youssef’s torso, as if to embrace him, then pushes him into a dirty blood stained corner with an animal hide on the wall. Shot compositions, with railings or posts often framed in the foreground when the camera is stationary, may evoke Youssef’s former prison, and partially block visual access to the characters as they play out their confrontational pas de deux. Bouzid has said that he decided from the beginning of his career ‘to make an interior cinema, in all senses of the word’. This sequence, in a confined, oppressive space, with antagonists both like and unlike each other, locked together in a single continuous shot, is an example of this.

Golden Horseshoes

Golden Horseshoes

Golden Horseshoes takes Bouzid’s ‘cinema of the body’ to both extremes. Youssef’s torture and suicide are represented with some degree of emphasis upon the damage done to the body and the blood that flows from this. Yet the film also includes a flashback to Youssef being intimate with his lover. Although they are clearly naked, in longer shots the actors’ genitals are obscured by a strategically positioned window frame in the foreground. Apart from the obvious function of placating the censors, this shot composition can be seen as suggesting that even moments of bliss do not afford a complete escape from constraint and confinement and tension within the frame. Once again, although sexual explicitness is a conventional ploy within much art cinema, Bouzid makes a case for its significance within his work in a specifically Arab cultural context:

While we can look at a foreign couple, we don’t have the right to look at Arab bodies making love. There’s a danger that we shall be reduced to voyeurs — constantly looking at others and never at ourselves… I wanted to show my protagonist…body to body with a woman and rid myself of a complex. (15)

Bouzid’s next film Bezness approaches sexuality from a different angle; as an illicit Tunisian commodity for sale on the margins of the tourist industry. The film’s male protagonist, Roufa, is an experienced but, for this kind of work, ageing ‘bezness’ servicing male and female European clients. It is Bouzid’s only film to date to include European characters. As such, it is revealing to consider it in relation to the European co-production arrangements that most Tunisian feature filmmakers rely upon to fund their work. Bouzid, and other leading Tunisian filmmakers such as Férid Boughedir, were greatly assisted in this by the producer Ahmed Attia, a key figure in the resurgence of Tunisian cinema from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s. One of Attia’s strategies was to attract as wide a range of sources of funding as possible in order to try and disperse control and open up some room for manoeuvre for the filmmakers he worked with. (16) Nevertheless, there is still scope within such arrangements for filmmakers to feel unwarranted pressure to reshape their work for foreign markets. Bouzid complained in interviews with Tunisian interlocutors about the French co-producer of Bezness’ desire to make the film more comedic, and thus more similar to the lighter-hearted Halfaouine (Férid Boughedir, 1990). Halfaouine had recently been a hit in the European, and particularly the French, art cinema circuit. (17) There was also pressure to enlarge the role of the French photographer, Fred, who is keen to unveil and capture on film the mysteries of an exotic locale, and to incorporate more French dialogue into the film, to ease its passage into that market. (18)

This type of pressure, and resistance to it, as well as more general Tunisian ambivalence about European tourists and the services provided to them, provides a context for appreciating Bezness. The film’s sinuous opening shot glides along the empty, winding, narrow streets of the Sousse medina as the Arabic credits roll. In the second shot, a blonde-haired white male European, armed with photographic equipment, enters frame left, his back to the moving camera that follows behind him, tracking his movements as he peers curiously at the architectural details and locked doors he encounters. He arrives at a dead end adorned by an ‘evil eye’ relief-sculpture, then turns and exits, linking up with a young Tunisian boy. The boy is Navette, Roufa’s younger brother who, acting as Fred’s guide, asks him in French whether he is lost, and reminds him in Arabic of his prior warning not to walk the streets alone. The third shot echoes the first, except for the continuation of Fred and Navette’s conversation through off-screen sound: Fred, ‘I don’t speak Arabic’; Navette, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ The camera continues moving, then there is a cut just before it hits a wall to a shot of a Tunisian woman at the beach, undressing and preparing to swim in the Mediterranean. This is subsequently revealed as Fred’s optical point-of-view.


Bezness plays with, and fractures, point-of-view shots, as well as staging subtle disjunctures between dialogue and image. The opening two shots stalk Fred and the ‘evil eye’ returns and denies his gaze. (19) The first exchange of dialogue in the film is a neat, apparently innocent reversal of the archetypal situation under colonialism, described by the Tunisian writer Albert Memmi: ‘In the linguistic conflict within the colonised, his mother tongue is that which is crushed. He himself sets about discarding this infirm language, hiding it from the sight of strangers.’ (20) Navette’s words seem to suggest that, if such comparisons are to be made, those who can only speak French in contemporary Tunisia should be regarded as the people who have something ‘wrong’ with them. Yet Bezness also delivers the type of images, as in the fourth shot, that Fred seeks, even if they are overtly marked as such. Tourists have the economic privilege and power to very often get what they want, as do European co-producers. In fact, marking the gaze in the Bezness’ fourth shot as European masks the likelihood, conveniently as far as censorship is concerned, that images of female nudity would also appeal to many Tunisians. Bezness trades in multiple and variable types of desire; it eschews essentialism by encompassing male and female characters of different nationalities, ages and sexualities, with different investments in and fantasies about Tunisia and Europe and each other. In some ways, it anticipates more recent European films about sex tourism in Third World locations, such as Heading South (Vers le sud, Laurent Cantet, 2005) and Paradise: Love (Paradies: Liebe, Ulrich Seidl, 2012). Heading South also replicates and interrogates European tourist gazes, and can be interpreted as a political allegory about how neocolonial economic domination of nations such as Haiti reduces the majority of their citizens to ‘garbage’. (21) Bezness differs from Heading South and Paradise: Love in that the narrative is more focalised around its Tunisian characters than the later films are around their Haitian and Kenyan ones. Consequently, Bezness offers a more thorough and subtle exploration of how it might feel to be perceived and treated as disposable.

Bouzid’s next film, Bent familia, can be related to one of Tunisian cinema’s biggest successes, Silences of the Palace (Samt el qusur, Moufida Tlatli, 1994), insofar as Bouzid contributed to the earlier film’s script, and both are women-centred dramas in which Amer Hedhili plays resilient characters. The film’s French title Tunisiennes is inaccurate – one of the three female friends in the film is Algerian – and it also loses the Arabic connotations of the original title Bent familia, which can be roughly translated as ‘woman of a good family’. An ethnographic account of women’s social networks in Tunis, partly based upon research carried out in the 1990s, concluded that: ‘the most basic and central pattern of Tunisian women’s social ties in Tunis [is] a network centred around kin’. (22) Kin relations are frequently restrictive and oppressive to the women in Bent familia: Aida’s (Hedhili’s) brother will not let her work an evening shift in his taxi business because that would mean her working alongside men outside of her family circle; Amina’s husband, who describes himself as ‘liberal’, rapes her. The film contrasts this to the pleasure and support its three friends derive from each other.

Bent Familia

Tunisian critic Tahar Chikhaoui has described the sequence in the middle of the film where Amina, Aida and Fatiha chance across a derelict tanker on the beach as ‘one of the best moments in Bent familia because it suggests, poetically and cinematographically, these women’s yearning for another place, undefinable yet liberating…This visit is temporary, returning is inevitable, as is suffering. But dreams are allowed.’ (23) The sequence encompasses wide shots of the exterior and interior of the ship, both strangely utopian spaces, and luminous closer shots of the women’s faces that magnify their joy and distress and partly locate them in ‘another space’. This Bergmanesque emphasis upon faces is especially pronounced in Bent familia, Bouzid’s first film centred on women. Beach locations, however, recur throughout his work, for example at the end of Golden Horseshoes and Bezness. The cinematic beaches in these films are amenable to being understood and experienced in the terms proposed by Peter Burleigh and Sophie Jung in their discussion of the beach as a locus of defamiliarisation:

This is a space that is open to alternatives, to new formations and constellations that relentlessly shift and reform themselves again and again. Such a constant reminder of experience, of physicality as a factor in reading our environment, challenges the acceptance of empirical truths. Cultural prescriptions are held in abeyance to be opened to contestation; there is a vision cleared for otherness. (24)

Clay Dolls, Bouzid’s next film, also touches upon areas of women’s experience, and the physical environment, but shifts its class focus to rural Tunisian girls and young women who are brought to Tunis to work as domestic servants, with their wages remitted back to their impoverished families. Once again, there is a link back to Silences of the Palace, in that both films explore the exploitation of women in situations also defined by class. The characters who most yearn for freedom in Silences of the Palace and Clay Dolls are played by Hend Sabry, a Tunisian actor ‘discovered’ by Bouzid who subsequently became a major star, primarily through appearances in Egyptian films, including A Teenager’s Diaries (Mothakerat morahkah, Inas Al Degheidy, 2001) and The Yacoubian Building (Omaret yakobean, Marwan Hamed, 2006). Sabry has referred to her star image around the time of A Teenager’s Diaries and Clay Dolls as involving the ‘instant labelling of my person as the girl for the daring roles’. (25) In Clay Dolls her character is active and desiring, despite her precarious social situation, and is repeatedly shot, controversially for an Arab context, in outfits and poses that also frame her, more than any other actor/character in Bouzid’s films, as an erotic spectacle. Yet the most compelling, complex character in Clay Dolls is Omrane (Ahmed Hafiene), another of Bouzid’s imperfect, tortured men. Rebeh (Sabry) aptly describes him as both a culprit and a victim. He traffics girls and young women from his village to Tunis, possibly skims some of their wages, yet also feels responsible for them, especially Rebeh when she tells him she is pregnant but will not name the father. Omrane drinks heavily in a bar where he is comfortable with the affection expressed by one of the barmen, played by the famous homosexual Tunisian dancer Hamadi Laghbabi.

Early in Bouzid’s career, the Tunisian critic Hédi Khelil argued that an ‘acute sensibility to matter’ was one of his distinctive qualities as an auteur. (26) This chimes with Laura U Marks’ argument that some Arab filmmakers seek ways to invoke tactile or olfactory dimensions of their national cultures. (27) Clay Dolls is explicit in its title about the material in the film most forcefully subject to what Marks calls haptic representation. Its opening close shot lingers on a fire inside a kiln in the village that the girls and young women are taken from. Midway through the narrative, Fedhah, the youngest migrant, smears her face and arms with the clay that she uses to make dolls. This occurs in five close-ups after she despairs of the domestic tasks imposed upon her. Touch and smell are powerfully evoked in these images, especially when projected on a cinema screen. Beyond this, the clay may carry a range of connotations. Most immediately, it reasserts Fedhah’s village origins and may connote a talismanic protective barrier for her body. It also marks out an autonomous space within her new circumstances. As Oliver Barlet puts it, Fedhah ‘ceaselessly refashions it, so as not to stay frozen like a submissive doll’. (28)

The first decade of the new century saw a number of developments relevant to Bouzid’s next controversial film, Making Of (2006). These developments include the decline in cinema-going, a demographic ‘youth bulge’ in Arab countries such as Tunisia, and the emergence of Tunisian hip-hop culture. The most immediate factor for any Tunisian filmmaker was the steep fall in cinema attendance. Tunisia, with a population currently nudging eleven million, was reported as having ninety-two cinemas in 1981, dropping to thirty-five in 2004, and as few as thirteen by 2012, although there are some recent initiatives to try and reverse this trend. (29) Within this context, 300,000 viewers reportedly saw Man of Ashes in Tunisian cinemas, and 350,000 saw Golden Horseshoes, during a period when between 60,000 and 100,000 was the average audience for a successful American or Egyptian film. (30) By the early years of the new century, the situation was quite different. Bouzid reflected at this time that although his and other Tunisian filmmakers’ work continued to garner awards at festivals, the Tunisian public, especially young people, did not necessarily engage with them. (31) This formed part of the context for the attempt to address recent developments within Tunisian youth culture in Making Of, whose protagonist is a break-dancer recruited by indigenous Islamic fundamentalists as a suicide bomber. The Tunisian actor and comedian Lotfi Abdelli played the confused protagonist Bahta, with Tunisian break dancers Upper Underground Crew supporting him.

Bouzid has declared his opposition to what he sees as the tendency in Hollywood films to emphasise ‘first of all a story, secondly a story, and thirdly a story’, but it is notable that Making Of is less episodic in its narrative structure than his previous films. (32) As the film progresses, the narrative increasingly hinges around whether or not Bahta will go through with his mission. The film’s average shot length is 14.2 seconds, still more than double the higher end of the Hollywood average, which, at the end of twentieth century, stands at three to six seconds. (33) Averages for individual films, however, only tell part of the story. Making Of ranges from shots lasting two to three minutes, for example during intense conversations between Bahta and his fundamentalist mentor, to some lasting two or three seconds within more action-orientated sequences. (34) Yet where Making Of differs most markedly from Bouzid’s previous work is not these stylistic features that may indicate an attempt to engage a wider and younger audience, but its ‘film within a film’ dimension. Making Of is interspersed with sequences where Bouzid, by then a highly visible public figure within Tunisia, addresses his lead actor Lotfi Abdelli’s concerns about representing a negative image of Islam. In this respect Making Of resembles some of the later semi-autobiographical films directed by and starring Youssef Chahine, an acknowledged influence upon Bouzid. The closest parallel is Chahine’s Alexandria Again and Forever (Iskanderija, Kaman oue Kaman, 1989), where the onscreen relationship between an acclaimed director in his sixties and his male protagonist is similarly fraught. (35)

Making Of parallels Man of Ashes in that it features three father figures: an ineffectual biological one; a monstrous one, and a more positive model. In Making Of Bahta is apprenticed to Abdallah, a tombstone engraver who recruits him to become a fundamentalist suicide bomber. The implication is that the relationship is, in its own way, as abusive as the relationships between apprentices Hechmi and Farfat and their master Ameur in Man of Ashes. Bouzid, as he appears in Making Of, differs markedly, however, from the equivalent ideal father figure in Man of Ashes. Bouzid’s calm expositions of his staunchly secular viewpoint, in the ‘film within a film’ exchanges with Abdelli, suggest that there is a simple resolution to the ‘crisis of filiation’ as far as the issue of secularism is concerned: the current generation of sons should defer to Bouzid’s wisdom. Indeed, Jeffrey Ruoff goes so far as to argue that ‘Bouzid’s overbearing on-screen persona suggests a dictatorship of the auteur almost as problematic as its fundamentalist counterpart’. (36) One context for this firm stance from a filmmaker otherwise inclined to argue that his films pose questions rather than provide answers is, as Ayad Allani puts it, ‘the shadow of Algeria’ cast in the 1990s by that neighbouring country’s bitterly divisive civil war. (37) Bent familia includes a powerful, affecting sequence where Algerian refugee Fatiha compulsively relives the trauma of a bloody massacre perpetrated by Islamists.


Making Of’s stark secularist/Islamist division has been criticised by some academics for ignoring the ‘dense relationship’ between Islamism and Tunisian hip-hop culture, and has also generated some polarised responses from sectors of the youth culture that it sought to represent. (38) The radical Islamist rapper Psycho M attained notoriety towards the end of the 2000s for advocating violence in some of his music and interviews, against Bouzid and other secular Tunisian intellectuals. The video for his track Manipulation (2010) includes a negatively recontextualised clip of Bouzid in one of the ‘film within a film’ sequences in Making Of. (39) Bouzid applauded the overthrow of former president Zinedine Ben Ali’s regime in January 2011, but has also expressed concern about the rise of Tunisian political Islam, including the ruling Ennadha party, in its wake. (40)  The diminutive director was attacked by an unknown assailant wielding an iron bar in April 2011. This incident, along with the award, at the May 2011 Cannes film festival, of the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, provoked a flurry of comment in Tunisian online forums, about radical Islamic salafists being given free rein to terrorise secular intellectuals in post-Ben Ali Tunisia, about Bouzid’s relationship to the Ben Ali regime, and about the rights and wrongs of him accepting an honour from France, Tunisia’s former coloniser, and a country which was also slow to recognise the legitimacy of the Tunisian people’s uprising. (41) The accuracy or incisiveness of this commentary is secondary to the evidence it provides of Bouzid, at least momentarily, becoming a lightning rod for debates about post-Ben Ali Tunisian culture and identity.

Aziz Krichen, the prominent Tunisian intellectual and former comrade of Bouzid’s on the radical Tunisian Left, who provided the template for the analysis of his early films, has departed from him on the question of secularism and Islamism. Krichen returned from exile after the fall of Ben Ali to serve as an adviser to interim president Moncef Marzouki in Tunisia’s coalition government. Krichen’s strategy, as a Gramscian intellectual, has been to advocate alliances with the more moderate sections of Tunisian Islamic groupings. (42) This is important to note, because the understandable, entirely appropriate reflex of liberal and leftist observers outside Tunisia, which is to support Bouzid and his right to freedom of speech and artistic expression, should not blind those observers to the complexity of current cultural and political developments within Tunisia, although events such as the assassination in February 2013 of the secular Leftist opposition leader Chokri Belaid do not bode well for the future.  Bouzid, for his part, let it be known after the assault he survived that the working title of his latest film, now known as Millefeuille (2013), was ‘Je ne meurs jamais’ (‘I will never die’).

This article has been peer reviewed.


  1. David Andrews, ‘Art Cinema as Institution, Redux: Art Houses, Film Festivals, and Film Studies’, Scope: An Online Journal of Film Studies 18 (2010), http://www.scope.nottingham.ac.uk/article.php?issue=18&id=1245
  2. Nouri Bouzid, ‘La Leçon de Cinéma de Nouri Bouzid’, Africultures 18 April 2006, http://www.africultures.com/php/index.php?nav=article&no=4385 (my translation).
  3. Nouri Bouzid, ‘New Realism in Arab Cinema: The Defeat-Conscious Cinema’, Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics 15, (1995), pp. 242-250, p. 249.
  4. David Bordwell, ‘The Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice’ [1979], in Marshall Cohen and Leo Braudy (eds.), Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 716-724, p. 718.
  5. Bouzid, ‘New Realism in Arab Cinema’, op cit., p. 242.
  6. Aziz Krichen, Le Syndrome Bourguiba (Tunis: Cérès Productions, 1992).
  7. Nouri Gana ‘Bourguiba’s Sons: Melancholy Manhood in Modern Tunisian Cinema’, The Journal of North African Studies 15:1 (2010), pp. 105-126.
  8. Noun Bouzid, ‘On Inspiration’, in Imruh Bakan and Mbye Cham (eds.), African Experiences of Cinema (London: British Film Institute 1996), p 54.
  9. Krichen, Le Syndrome Bourguiba, op cit., p. 16 (my translation).
  10. Bouzid, ‘On Inspiration’, op cit., p. 56.
  11. Viola Shafik, ‘Rituals of Hegemonic Masculinity: Cinema, Torture and the Middle East’, in Julie A. Carlson and Elisabeth Weber (eds.), Speaking about Torture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp.183-4, argues that ‘auteur films have largely refrained from any/allegorical or rhetorical use of torture that directly implicates any particular political actor’. The implication in The Golden Horseshoes, for Tunisian audiences at least, supported by some historical markers in the film, is that its protagonist was imprisoned under the Bourguiba regime, but possibly released after Zinedine Ben Ali took power in 1987.
  12. Nouri Bouzid, ‘Mission Unaccomplished’, Index on Censorship 24:6 (1995), pp. 100-4, p. 102.
  13. Rasha Salti, ‘Shall we Dance?’, Cinema Journal 52:1 ( 2012), pp. 166-71, p. 170.
  14. Bouzid, ‘Mission Unaccomplished’, op cit., p. 102.
  15. Ibid., p. 102.
  16. Attia’s strategy is discussed in Manthia Diawara, ‘On Tracking World Cinema’, Public Culture 5:2, (1993), pp. 339-43, and by Attia himself in his contribution to June Givanni (ed.) Symbolic Narratives/African Cinema (London: BFI, 2000), p. 227.
  17. Hédi Khélil, Résistances et Utopies: Essais sur le Cinéma Aarabe et Africain (Tunis: Editions Sahar, 1994), p. 23.
  18. Anouar Trabelsi, ‘Le cinéma Tunisien est-il Européen?’, Les Enjeux de l’Information et de la Communication, 2009, pp. 8-9, http://w3.u-grenoble3.fr/les_enjeux/2008/Trabelsi/index.php
  19. Robert Lang, ‘Sexual Allegories of National Identity in Nouri Bouzid’ s Bezness (1992), The Journal of North African Studies 12:3 (2007), pp, 309-328, p. 314, discusses the symbolism of the ‘evil eye’ in the film.
  20. Albert Memmi, The Coloniser and the Colonised (London: Souvenir Press, 1974), p. 107.
  21. Jessica Livingston, ‘Global Capital’s False Choices in the Films of Laurent Cantet, Jump Cut 53 (2011), http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc53.2011/LivingstonCantet/index.html. On the other hand, Marilyn Adler Papayanis, ‘Sex on the Beach: The Yin Yang of Female Sex Tourism in Two Films’, Bright Lights Film Journal 78 (2012), http://brightlightsfilm.com/78/78-heading-south-and-how-stella-got-her-groove-back-female-sex-tourism-in-cinema_papayanis.php, argues that Heading South manifests a ‘profound discomfort in matters relating to the mature woman’s sexuality’. Bezness, by contrast, features various European male and female sex tourists of differing ages.  
  22. Paula Holmes-Eber, Daughters of Tunis: Women, Family and Networks in a Muslim City (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2003), p.49, p. 69.
  23. Tahar Chikhaoui, ‘Les Tunisiennes de Nouri Bouzid/Nouri Bouzid’s Tunisian Women’, Ecrans d’Afrique 28 (1998), pp. 52-9, p. 59.
  24. Peter Burleigh and Sophie Jung, ‘The Beach as a Space of Defamiliarisation’, Journal of Visual Art Practice 9:3 (2010), pp. 245-257, pp. 247-8.
  25. Sabry quoted in May Abdel Asim, ‘Hend Sabry: A League of Her Own’, What Women Want, March 2009, http://whatwomenwant-mag.com/beta/2012/12/hend-sabry-a-league-of-her-own/.
  26. Hédi Khélil, ‘Matière, Mémoire et Regard’, Sociétés 28 (1990), pp. 27-30, p. 28 (my translation).
  27. Laura U Marks, The Skin of the Film (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), pp. 159-60. Marks goes on to refer to the ‘the contemporary longing in Western countries and urban centres for a soothing “return” to the senses [that] has an undeniable cast of neo-Orientalism’ (p. 240), as one of the reasons this quality may appeal to Western viewers as well.
  28. Olivier Barlet, ‘Clay Dolls’, http://www.africultures.com/php/index.php?nav=article&no=2659 (my translation)
  29. Florence Martin, ‘Cinema and State in Tunisia’, in Josef Gugler (ed.) Film in the Middle East and North Africa: Creative Dissidence (Texas: University of Texas Press, 2011), p. 282;  Alice Hackman, ‘Tunisian association to bring cinema magic to far-flung villages’, Euromedaudiovisuel 13 September 2012, http://www.euromedaudiovisuel.net/p.aspx?l=en&t=news&mid=21&did=916
  30. These figures are cited in Bouzid, ‘Mission Unaccomplished’, op cit., p. 104; Ahmed Attia, contribution to June Givanni (ed.) Symbolic Narratives/African Cinema, op cit., p. 227.
  31. Kamel Ben Ouanès, ‘La Peur le Moteur Principal: Entretien avec Nouri Bouzid’, Africine 14 June 2007, http://www.africine.org/?menu=art&no=6619.
  32. Heike Hurst and Olivier Barlet, ‘About Poupées d’Argile: Interview with Nouri Bouzid’, Africultures 9 January 2003, http://www.africultures.com/php/index.php?nav=article&no=5642&texte_recherche=bouzid entretien (my translation).
  33. David Bordwell, The Way Hollywood Tells It (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), p. 122.
  34. For a graph detailing all the shot lengths in Making Of see my entry on the film on the Cinemetrics website: http://www.cinemetrics.lv/movie.php?movie_ID=13299.
  35. For a discussion of Chahine’s influence upon Bouzid, see Martin Stollery, ‘Masculinities, Generations, and Cultural Transformation in Contemporary Tunisian Cinema’, Screen 42: 1 (2001), pp. 49-63, p. 51-2, 53, 62.
  36. Jeffrey Ruoff, ‘The Gulf War, the Iraq War, and Nouri Bouzid’s Cinema of Defeat: It’s Scheherazade We’re Killing (1993) and Making Of (2006)’, South Central Review 28:1 (2011), pp. 18-35, p. 31.
  37. Ayad Allani, ‘The Islamists in Tunisia between Confrontation and Participation: 1980–2008’, The Journal of North African Studies 14:2 (2009), pp. 257-272, p. 258.
  38. Hishaam Aidi, ‘The Grand (Hip-Hop) Chessboard: Race, Rap and Raison d’Etat’, Middle East Report 260 (2011), pp. 25-39, p. 25. For a relevant discussion see Dervla Sara Shannahan and Qurra Hussain, ‘Rap on l’avenue: Islam, aesthetics, authenticity and masculinities in the Tunisian rap scene’, Contemporary Islam 5 (2011), pp. 37-58.
  39. Psyco M’s Manipulation video can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_R5wjUXYX8.
  40. See for example Bouzid’s comments quoted in Raissa Kasolowsky, ‘Tunisian struggle with new freedom hits silver screen’, Chicago Tribune October 17, 2012, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-10-17/news/sns-rt-us-tunisia-film-freedombre89g0w2-20121017_1_ennahda-salafis-ben-ali.
  41. See for example the many comments posted at the Mosaique site: ‘Nouri Bouzid victime d’une agression’, 8 April, 2011, http://www.mosaiquefm.net/index/a/ActuDetail/Element/13876-Nouri-Bouzid-victime-d-une-agression.html, and ‘Cannes: Nouri Bouzid Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur’, 13 May 2011, http://www.mosaiquefm.net/index/a/ActuDetail/Element/14355-Cannes-Nouri-Bouzid-chevalier-de-la-L%C3%A9gion-d-honneur.html.
  42. See for example Aziz Krichen, ‘A propos des élections de la constituante en Tunisie : l’épouvantail islamiste’, Le Quotidien d’Algérie 9 November 2011, http://lequotidienalgerie.org/2011/11/09/a-propos-des-elections-de-la-constituante-en-tunisie-l%e2%80%99epouvantail-islamiste/.


Rih essed (Man of Ashes, 1986)
Safa’ih min dhahab (Golden Horseshoes, 1989)
Bezness (1992)
It’s Scheherazade We’re Killing, part of the omnibus film The Gulf War…What Next? (1993)
Bent familia (aka Tunisiennes, 1997)
Poupées d’argile (Clay Dolls, 2002)
Making Of (2006)
Millefeuille (2013)

Select Bibliography

Nouri Bouzid, ‘Mission Unaccomplished’, Index on Censorship 24:6 (1995), pp. 100-4.

Nouri Bouzid, ‘New Realism in Arab Cinema: The Defeat-Conscious Cinema’, Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics 15, (1995), pp. 242-250.

Nouri Gana ‘Bourguiba’s Sons: Melancholy Manhood in Modern Tunisian Cinema’, The Journal of North African Studies 15:1 (2010), pp. 105-126.

Hédi Khélil, ‘Matière, Mémoire et Regard’, Sociétés 28 (1990), pp. 27-30.

Aziz Krichen, Le Syndrome Bourguiba (Tunis: Cérès Productions, 1992).

Robert Lang, ‘Sexual Allegories of National Identity in Nouri Bouzid’ s Bezness (1992), The Journal of North African Studies 12:3 (2007), pp, 309-328.

Jeffrey Ruoff, ‘The Gulf War, the Iraq War, and Nouri Bouzid’s Cinema of Defeat: It’s Scheherazade We’re Killing (1993) and Making Of (2006)’, South Central Review 28:1 (2011), pp. 18-35.

Martin Stollery, ‘Masculinities, Generations, and Cultural Transformation in Contemporary Tunisian Cinema’, Screen 42: 1 (2001), pp. 49-63.

Web Resources

Nouri Bouzid, ‘La Leçon de Cinéma de Nouri Bouzid’, Africultures 18 April 2006, http://www.africultures.com/php/index.php?nav=article&no=4385

Psyco M, Manipulation,

Anouar Trabelsi, ‘Le cinéma Tunisien est-il Européen?’, Les Enjeux de l’Information et de la Communication, 2009, pp. 8-9,

‘Interview with director Nouri Bouzid and star Lotfi Abdelli’, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSEM-4G9Dos

Trailer for ‘Hidden Beauties’,

About The Author

Martin Stollery is the author of Alternative Empires: European Modernist Cinemas and Cultures of Imperialism (University of Exeter Press, 2000), L'Emigre (Flicks Books 2004), and co-author of British Film Editors (BFI, 2004). He has published numerous articles and book chapters on various aspects of North African and British film history.

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