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Three well-educated North African women deal with machismo and sexual stereotyping in modern Tunisia
_Bent Familia_, which is being shown in France under the title _Tunisiennes_ , is a highly intelligent and enjoyable film from director Nouri Bouzid, who had previously written the screenplay for _The Silences of the Palace_. We meet three intelligent thirty-something women in conteporary Tunisia: Amel Hedhili plays a brash, strong university teacher who not only has been divorced, but is not ashamed of it and, to the scandalized horror of her neighbours, continues to receive male visitors. Nadia Kaci is a shy refugee from Algeria: we know she has lived through horrible violence in her strife -torn home country, and is still haunted with fear by the fate of her loved ones still there. Finally, Leila Nassim plays the film's central character: docile, gentle Amina, who smiles a lot but barely speaks. As the film opens , we find Amina in the midst of a 14-year marriage; although her wealthy husband has installed her in a comfortable home, Amina is stifled by his macho authoritarianism: he has made her quit her studies and complains loudly when she leaves the house alone, despite the fact that he himself is usually carrying on at least one illicit affair on the side. Thanks to her friendship with the two other women, Amina gradually comes to realize what a cloistered, stifling existence she has been forced to lead for so many years, and slowly and painfully she begins to find the courage to stand up to her domineering husband and do something about it. The theme may seem trite by Western standards accustomed as weve been since 1991's _Thelma and Louise_ to feminist buddy-films. Yet Bent Familia is quite unforgettable: the males are not caricatural, just believably fallible (and in the case of Amina's traditionalist husband, quite scarily so), and the women's friendship is sensitively portrayed. Perhaps the film 's best feature is its actresses. In Leila Nassim, Bouzid has found a genuinely impressive talent: reserved and uptight at the film's beginning, she oozes passion, courage and righteous indignation by its end, and the depths of her beautiful brown eyes are more eloquent than pages of dialogue in lesser films. Bouzid is to be congratulated for a courageous film which is both a savage indictment of a society still too macho by half, and a hymn in praise of the liberating strength of female friendship.
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