Die Welt is an audacious hybrid between fiction and documentary, showing contemporary Tunisia shortly after the Jasmine revolution in 2011.Die Welt is an audacious hybrid between fiction and documentary, showing contemporary Tunisia shortly after the Jasmine revolution in 2011.Die Welt is an audacious hybrid between fiction and documentary, showing contemporary Tunisia shortly after the Jasmine revolution in 2011.
This is a smart, sensitive look inside lower middle-class Tunisian society by a Dutch director who, as an adult, connected with his estranged father and Tunisian family and drafted them into a film project. Using a rich cast of non- and semi-professionals, many of them relatives (including the father himself, who had left his family and returned to Tunisia when Pitstra was 3), Pitstra has tapped into an improvisational groove that works wonderfully well. Anyone who knows Tunisia will perk up, as the characters deliver all the gruff, grumpy but basically good-natured and affectionate banter and humorous abuse that is so characteristic of this deeply specific culture. No all-Tunisian movie I've seen to date, neither those of Ferid Boughedir, nor even Nouri Bouzid's excellent "Bezness" (which comes closest and even shares some thematic material with "Die Welt") come close to delivering this kind of zany authenticity. Among many other reasons to like it, you can tell that this is a film that everyone involved must have had a great time making.
The story line involves such unfunny topics as youth unemployment, the ongoing revolution in the country (treated mostly as voices off, a source of ironic comment and disabused resignation), youthful escapist fantasy, and clandestine emigration. All are treated with a very light and unprogrammatic touch -- no Sundance or Hallmark-card facileness, no "lessons" here. The plot is actually pretty thin, and so is hard to summarize, but the characters couldn't be more vivid, including Pitstra's father and the admirable young Abdelhamid Nawara, the protagonist, the very embodiment of urban Tunisian youth. The interaction between these two couldn't be finer or more telling, though Nawara's finest moment actually comes in the fizzy monologue/rant that opens the film -- nothing that follows quite reaches this level of inspired ditziness.
Pitstra proclaims the film part-fiction, part-documentary. He'd probably hate the term, but it's also an important document. While the IMDb listing shows the film's language as "Arabic", it is (save for the drab reporting of election results on state radio) almost entirely in Derja, the Tunisian "colloquial Arabic" that is in fact very much a separate language of the Semitic group, closer to Maltese than it is to Arabic, interspersed, very authentically, with lots of French phrases. "Die Welt" (Pitstra really should have found a more compelling title for international release) documents how this language is spoken today better than other film that I am aware of, in all its colorful and often obscene glory. Tunisian youth, who more and more demand content in Derja, as opposed to standard Arabic (which they learn in school but find fusty and ill-adapted to real-world speech), would adore this movie for that reason alone, as a reflection of how they hear and see themselves. Alas, Pitstra says that it has not yet been released there, even in video (since it would instantly be pirated to death). (And the scary scolds who have been consolidating political power would doubtless hate it for its precisely those reasons -- theatres that screened it might be firebombed, I fear.) But, though the story ends in sadness and resignation, most Tunisians I know (or at least the younger ones) would find it thrillingly life-affirming. I hope that somehow as many of them as possible get to see it.
- Mar 29, 2013