Published April 18, 2016
Twenty years after his last film, the director Férid Boughedir returns to the big screen with “Parfum de printemps”. A social comedy reminiscent of the beginnings of the 2011 revolution.
The most successful author in the history of Tunisian cinema with Halfaouine, l’enfant des terrasses, released in 1990, followed in 1996 with a film, very well received by critics and the public, Un été à La Goulette, Férid Boughedir had to make us wait for twenty years before proposing a new feature film. It is true that this academic, movie columnist, tireless activist of the seventh art in the South, has never failed to work.
With Parfum de printemps, he continues his soft and sharp portrait of Tunisia, this time for the “hero”, a young adult who arrives from the Sahara to Tunis to find work and soulmate. With his simplicity and innocence, Aziz looks like an eternal child. always favoring humor and lightness, a deliberately offbeat look though most often realistic by Férid Boughedir allows an examination of the period spanning the last years of the Ben Ali regime and the advent of the famous Tunisian spring. The release of the movie appears under good auspices: selected by the International Film Festival of Washington, where it was screened on April 15, it will make the opening of the Cinémas du Sud festival of the Institut Lumière, managed by Thierry Frémaux, Director General of the Cannes film festival, on April 27.
Jeune Afrique: Two feature films that get a big hit, then twenty years of silence. Why ?
Férid Boughedir: My concern was never to make a career, so I make a film when it seems essential to me, a necessity. When I’m sick and tired of seeing the spread of stereotypes talking about the Arab and Muslim societies, especially of the Tunisian society. For Halfaouine, we were shortly after the Iranian revolution, and the talk was of the chador and locked-up women. Nothing to do with my experience, I who as a child had grown up in a society where there was, in the guise of a subjugation of women, a kind of Mediterranean matriarchy. For Un été à La Goulette, it was the time of the war in the former Yugoslavia, and I saw with astonishment that the inhabitants of the same building, Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs, could kill themselves. Then returning to my childhood memories while on vacation in Tunisia, where Jews, Arab Muslims and Catholics Sicilians in could coexist without problems in a building in La Goulette: a truth that must be told through the eye of the camera.
And for Parfum de printemps?
I felt the need to hold a mirror again, first to Tunisians but also to everyone, a few years after this major event that had been the revolution and which had been object very serious films. I wanted to again start from the intimate in order to evoke in my own way, with lightness, a subject conducive to clichés. I like stories rooted in the local – here the Moncef Bey souk – and that touch the universal. As Ousmane Sembène was able to tell it with La Noire de … or Youssef Chahine with Gare centrale, showing that we, men of the South, we could do this film there without complexes.
During those two decades, you have not wanted to shoot a film?
During this period, I doggedly pursued my action in favor of African cinema, including as coordinator of all Tunisian film associations. Our collective effort has allowed the creation in 2011 of a structure that was seriously lacking in Tunisia: a National Film Centre. This is, alas, an empty shell since the coming to power of Islamists in 2011 failed to take the next step by organizing the financing of Tunisian cinema through the CNC – ideally by a tax on all broadcasting. I hope that this step will be taken soon.
Was it also more difficult to shoot films under the Ben Ali regime?
The movie was not particularly penalized all this time. Unlike television, it does not penetrate into homes, so it is not monitored in the same way. Furthermore, during installation of this regime, the Tunisian cinema has begun to reap rewards with films like L’Homme de cendres, by Nouri Bouzid, Les Silences du palais, by Moufida Tlatli, ou Halfaouine, which protected us. When Halfaouine was released, it is the Islamists who attacked me relentlessly in the Ennahda newspaper, L’Aube, saying it was shameful to show naked women in a hammam on screen and … it is not impossible that Ben Ali had thought that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” I began to encounter obstacles in mounting my projects six years ago, for a minister of culture did not come to terms with the fact that, as director of the Carthage festival, I refuse to make cuts in the film Making Of by Nouri Bouzid, who evoked the manipulation of a young street dancer by a fundamentalist who wanted to turn him into a suicide bomber.
The hero of Halfaouine was a child at the threshold of adolescence, that of Un été à La Goulette, a young man; with Parfum de printemps, we are dealing with an adult. The end of a Tunisian trilogy, very autobiographical in the first two cases, less in the third with the character of Aziz, so naive?
The end of a trilogy, maybe. And that the film is less autobiographical, it’s certainly true. But only up to a point. The character of Aziz, one can imagine that this is the hero of Halfaouine, who grew up, but retaining, as adult, like Voltaire’s Candide, idealism, innocence and the purity of a child, a man who still believes deeply in human nature characterized by the good. A character that matches what was said so well by the poet Jules Supervielle, which I love to quote: “I do not want to kill in me the child, which every adult is the killer.”
What is the message that you want to convey through Parfum de printemps ?
I do not know whether to speak message, a filmmaker is not a politician. My purpose is primarily to hold a benevolent mirror to the Tunisian people, my compatriots, who still fascinate me with their sense of adaptation to events. Under Ben Ali, where began regrettably a conservative fold of the society which continues, as later. It is also understood that the real heroes are not always those who claim to be. And to fight against prejudice, racism and hatred factors that systematically present the Arab and Muslim world as violent. But never forgetting that cinema should be fun above all.
>> Parfum de printemps, by Férid Boughedir (released in France on April 20, Tunisia in early May under the title Zizou)
Renaud de Rochebrune