POUPEES D’ARGILES(Tunisia) - JCC : 2002 - 95 min

Nouri Bouzid

There is one particularly beautiful scene (of many) in Poupées d’argile (Clay Dolls). Omrane, who goes round rural backwaters looking for maids to hire out to rich Tunisian families, discovers that Rebeh, one of these young women with whom he has now fallen in love, has been raped and is pregnant. He asks her to sink her teeth into his flesh. This sums up the very force of Bouzid’s cinema, of Man of Ashes and The Golden Horseshoes – this way of giving his torn and drifting characters real substance. Without making them put everything into words, he finds body language metaphors that let them express both their wounds and the fever that drives them. The wine Omrane gulps down is a salutary outlet for his desperation. When he learns the news, however, he pours it on the floor because it is impossible to go back, to repair the damage.

Similarly, Fôdha, the little six-year-old who gets clay to carry on making dolls as she did in the village, makes and destroys them over and over again. She constructs, deconstructs and reconstructs herself incessantly, just like all these women whose childhoods have been stolen from them. She constantly remodels herself to stop herself from getting trapped into being a subjugated doll. Matter plays an essential role here too, just as fire, water and wood do in The Golden Horseshoes. It demonstrates the metaphoric power of a filmmaker who is at the height of his talent, who manages to blend the evocative power of the elements and the signifying poetry of lights and images.

Pain shapes the bodies and beings, as does the town. As we gradually discover Tunis, it increasingly ensnares the different characters. This doesn’t stop us from meeting magnificently generous characters of a humane depth or overwhelming sadness. These supporting characters are never just backdrops. They engender a constellation of sentiments and enrich the narrative far more than they disperse it.

Although the male archetype Omrane is condemned to purge the full weight of his contemptible behaviour, Rebeh, who used to love singing « the girl in the air and the wind » when she was little, discovers the harsh quest for revolt and freedom, thereby opening up the way for little Fôdha. It is of course this that this beautiful film inspires.

Par Olivier Barlet