Beauty and the Dogs
Aala Kaf Ifrit
Panorama | Contemporary World Cinema
Shocking and compelling, Kaouther Ben Hania’s (Challat of Tunis, VIFF 14) fiction debut portrays the aftermath of a rape. University student Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani) is assaulted by the very people who are supposed to protect her—policemen—and, of course, she has to seek justice through the same institution that employs her attackers. That’s not the only obstacle in her path: there’s also the medical bureaucracy she has to fight her way through to get validation of the crime, and, more generally, the misogyny that pervades her Tunisian culture.
Ben Hania displays a rock-solid dedication to justice; her movie is laced with a strong sense of outrage, and she’s unsparing in her attack on patriarchy. A formalist as well as a feminist, she tells her story in only nine shots. It’s a move that pays off well, heightening the film’s suspense as well as its realism. Beauty and the Dogs is a harsh film, but that quality makes it all the more vital as a political act. A director less skilled, less daring, less angry than Ben Hania could only have betrayed the truth of this subject. One can look at her movie with gratitude—and with hope that it will have an impact in her home country.
"[A] forthright and accomplished film… anyone looking for strong female filmmaking voices from North Africa would do well to take note of this picture."—Wendy Ide, Screen