Beauty And The Dogs (2017)
(Arabic and French, with English subtitles)
Regular readers of my film posts will know how much I like foreign films, those ‘World Cinema’ offerings, with subtitles. I was lucky to spot this Tunisian film being shown late one night on a TV film channel, and recorded it on the PVR.
This is based on the true story of Mariam, a young woman studying at university in Tunis. One night, she organises a party for the students, and goes along with her friends to have an enjoyable evening. Whilst there, she meets a man, Youssef, and they go outside to walk on the beach.
The story that follows is told in numbered chapters, and plays out over the course of just one night, the night following the party. A night when Mariam is raped by police offers, who handcuff her boyfriend while they assault the girl. Crucially, the actual rape is not shown, not even in flashback. As viewers, we only get to hear about it through the stories of Mariam and the man she met. In many respects, the absence of any ‘shock’ footage is even more disturbing, as the lead actress uses emotions to convey her horror, fear, and disgust to powerful effect.
As she tries to get medical help, then file a police report, we see a savage indictment of the state of Tunisia as a country. Poor infrastructure, corruption, a country still ruled and dominated by men, and women treated with little respect or regard. Mariam encounters indifference, and outright hostility, even from female police officers. She is treated like a whore, and made to feel humiliated at every turn. Most of this is based on the fact that she is wearing a skimpy party dress, has make-up on, and is stunningly beautiful.
The attitudes she is faced with range from she got what she deserved, to the idea that reporting such a crime will bring shame on her family. During that harrowing night, she is steadily worn down by officialdom, and deliberate obstruction. But this treatment makes her all the more determined to seek justice.
This is an amazing film, with a central performance by Mariam Al-Ferjani as Mariam that deserved to win a crop of international awards. She is not only perfect for the role, but her acting range is there for all to see, and she must surely have a great future. Filmed mostly on location, and with a convincing cast of actors mostly playing ‘bad guy’ roles, we are rooting for Mariam from the opening scene, to the closing credits.
This may not be easy to find, but I urge you to watch it.