A young Tunisian woman arrives illegally in France following her escape from Tunisia'sJasmine Revolution. As she struggles to adapt to her new reality,she faces both danger and hope. This ...
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Mohamed Ben Attia
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A young Tunisian woman arrives illegally in France following her escape from Tunisia'sJasmine Revolution. As she struggles to adapt to her new reality,she faces both danger and hope. This is the fourth feature film from writer-director a Raja Amari(Satin Rouge,Buried Secrets)
For passionate film lovers, Foreign Body goes beyond the indie norm, despite its familiar plot and character elements, which include an immigration story (Tunisia to France, illegally), a cultural-clash drama (Islam's moral code versus France's), and an edgy love story that crosses traditional sexual boundaries. These structural elements recede for the film's greater essence: quiet psychological portrayals that are deeply human and convey a message about the eternal gender divide.
The three principal characters, who eventually have an erotic moment together, are Samia (Sarra Hannachi), just arrived in Lyon following an illegal boat crossing from Tunisia; Imed (Salim Kechiouche), already in Lyon seven years illegally; and Madame Lelia Berteau (Hiam Abbass), an upper-class French widow of similar Arab origins.
The long, quiet passages of the movie reveal Samia and Lelia's characters, in the beginning with their wariness of each other—can the illegal young woman be trusted? Will the French widow inform the police? The tension of trust continues almost to the end of the movie; Samia's secret past in Tunisia—the scars on her back, her watchful, survivor's eyes—make her slightly suspicious, also to the audience. What are her true motives? The slow revelations about Mme. Berteau's own immigrant past and rise in class because of her marriage to a wealthy Frenchman happen in pregnant atmospheres controlled by Abbass's intelligent face.
Besides the women's secrets from each other and their unveiling over time, we also witness their mutual support as women in a chauvinistic world; and true to life, their female solidarity coexists with wariness, suspicion, and jealousy of each other. Imed is the man between them, desirable to both for erotic, not intellectual, attributes—another subject for the audience to ponder. Handsome Imed can be kind, respectful, and generous to both women, but the minute one of them steps outside the expected female role, he punishes them. This historic male authority over women in every culture strengthens women's bonds, and in Samia and Lelia's case, it influences their turning to each other for personal and erotic closeness. Samia, with scars on her back, fears shadowy men in Lyon's narrow byways when she walks home alone. Even if she is actually safe, she feels preyed upon. Another universal for women: the physical danger of men.
Samia's character offers more to reflect on. Her young, female sensuality and heat for sex is accurate and a rare portrayal. She's called a whore for it, and we, as a traditionally socialized audience, watching her sensually dance at a bar, lifting her clothes to reveal her skin and allure the men surrounding her, think: She's shouldn't do that, she's bad to do that. But actually, Samia's sensations and actions are authentically female. Foreign Body makes us aware of how we judge women as whores for their natural sexuality, but condone men for theirs.
Amari has made a multi-layered feminist movie, showing the complexities within women, men, and society regarding gender. The strongest take-away is the female bond that has created a social and psychological bulwark for women, one that this movie shows us has greater strength, greater collective power than the heavier weight of men. Imed represents his kind: helpful, respectful, and generous to the weaker sex, as long as she obeys his rules. The scales stand before us, with women the higher order.
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