LFF2016 #3: Hedi (Tunisia-France-Belgium-Qatar-UAE 2016)

Majd Mastoura as Hedi and Rym Ben Messaoud as Rym in 'Hedi'

Majd Mastoura as Hedi and Rym Ben Messaoud as Rym in ‘Hedi’

lff-2016.jpgHedi was shown in the ‘First Feature’ section of the LFF programme, following awards for the film itself and the lead actor at Berlin earlier this year. It’s a relatively simple and straightforward narrative lifted by strong performances by each of the leads. ‘Hedi’ is a young man in his mid-twenties who is suffering from a protective and controlling mother and the pressure of a more successful older brother who has migrated to France. Hedi is currently working as a sales rep for a Peugeot dealer in a small town outside Tunis. Following the terrorist attack at a resort in Sousse in 2015, business is slow but Hedi is nevertheless sent out to ‘prospect’ for new customers.

Stuck with a soul-destroying job, Hedi is also faced with his mother’s arrangements for his marriage to a young woman from a wealthy local family. Hedi and his bride-to-be are forced to meet secretly in his car but, even so, he hardly knows her as the wedding date approaches. The ‘inciting incidents’ in the narrative are the decision by Hedi’s boss to send him on a prospecting tour when he should have time off for the wedding preparations – and the arrival of the older brother back from France.

Staying in a tourist hotel during his ‘prospecting’, Hedi decides to abandon the fruitless task of contacting potential clients and instead to enjoy himself. In so doing, and in a well-handled series of encounters, he links up with one of the entertainers at the hotel. Rym is one of a troupe who put on shows for the small group of German tourists. She’s a few years older than Hedi and has travelled widely. His mother’s (and brother’s) plans for Hedi are seriously challenged.

Hedi, as played by Majd Mastoura, is at first a placid and rather solemn young man who begins to open up with the vivacious and confident Rym. It isn’t hard to see the film, written and directed by Mohamed Ben Attia, as having a metaphorical quality. Tunisia post the 2011 revolution is still on the cusp of the move from tradition to modernity. The impact of migration/travel to Europe as a modernising force is presented in the contrast between Rym as a liberal figure and the older brother whose contact with European culture has created a different kind of mix. Hedi himself has a passion for drawing which has the potential to fund a different kind of life – but which is mocked by his mother.  I’m not sure if Hedi will make it into UK distribution, but it is appearing in the Leeds International Film Festival in November and is definitely worth trying to catch. Since it is co-produced by the Dardenne Brothers’ company, Les Films du Fleuve, perhaps there is a chance of distribution in different European countries.

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