Festival Section: Viewpoints
It’s no secret that music can transcend the boundaries of language and culture to provide both entertainment and societal awakenings to its listeners. Farah already knows this, despite being only 18 years old, and she uses her siren-like talent as a singer to captivate audiences in contemporary Tunis, as well as to embolden herself. But her lyrics, often written by her would-be boyfriend Bohrène, are also politically salacious, and the still naive young woman remains unaware of how dangerous her acts of artistry can be, despite warnings from her mother Hayet (Ghalia Benali), and others. Amidst the rumblings of Tunisia’s Arab Spring movement, naturally, a boiling point is reached that there may be no turning back from.
As strong as a debut feature film as ever seen, director Leyla Bouzid’s sensitivity to her protagonist–protecting her as much as Farah’s mother attempts to, until it is no longer possible–is a strong and skillfully done, if not saliently apparent. That’s not to say because she is a female and her lead character is that her understanding as a director/writer is as obvious. No, As I Open My Eyes is multi-layered as a family, cultural, musically-filled, coming-of-age, political drama that instantly hits all the dramatic notes that one expects, and others you probably didn’t see coming.
Farah is played by newcomer Baya Medhaffar, whose striking young beauty and wide-eyed enthusiasm is infectious. She’s a joy to experience on screen as our point-of-view character on the road to losing youthful innocence. Alongside Medhaffar, the arguably equal performance comes from Benali. With a history shrouded in secrets, she and husband Mamoud, obviously rebels in years past (perhaps in connection to increased human rights violations in Tunisia around the turn of the century), tread carefully, though are supportive of her music despite rumblings from all around them to have Farah lead a more traditional life. Hayet, despite living what seems like a carefree life to outsiders, is pained as she sees her daughter going down the same idealistic roads that she paid the price for. You see this in Benali’s eyes, in her furtive steps, imbuing you in as much pain as she feels inside.
While a big part of the story, actress Ghalia Benali is just one of the factors that makes As I Open My Eyes worth seeing as soon as you can.
Bold as Love festival rating: 5/5
Director: Leyla Bouzid
With Baya Medhaffer, Ghalia Benali, Montassar Ayari, Aymen Omrani, Lassaad Jamoussi, Deena Abdelwahed, Youssef Soltana, Marwen Soltana
Country: France, Belgium, United Arab Emirates,Tunisia
Runtime: 103 min.
Screenings and Venues:
- Saturday April 16, 7:00pm at Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea*
- Wednesday April 20, 7:15pm at Regal Cinemas Battery Park*
- Thursday April 21, 6:45pm at Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea*
*ONLY Rush tickets still available
The 2016 Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 13 – 24 in New York City