I believe writer-director Raja Amari's Satin Rouge
is the first Tunisian film I have ever seen, and it proves to be a revelation. Although much of the milieu is unfamiliar to me, this story about a middle-aged woman's awakening is universal. Think Douglas Sirk and the old Hollywood formulas for women's “weepies,” those melodramatic constructions in which a woman discovers that she has been living her whole life for her children, parents, and/or husband and then suddenly awakens to her dormant self. The Hollywood films usually conclude before the joys of true love and sexual gratification become the woman's to possess forever after. Things usually end badly for the chastened woman. But if Hollywood has yet to catch up with modern times, it's good to know that it's possible for a woman in a Tunisian film to embark on a course of self-discovery and have a chance to live happily ever after. In Satin Rouge,
Abbass plays Lilia, a dutiful widow and mother of a teenage girl. We see her at first in a shapeless duster, cleaning the apartment, and pausing to watch a bit of TV before cleaning more already-clean objects. Every once in a while she pauses in front of a mirror and sways to the music on the radio. Her daughter, a typical teen, has become a bit evasive regarding her whereabouts, so Lilia creeps out of the house to follow her and somehow lands in a belly dancing joint. There she is befriended by the aging star of the show, and, bit by bit, Lilia begins to come out of her shell. The story literally climaxes with a hot, veins-popping-out-of-their-heads sex scene, and is followed by more melodramatic twists. In between, we witness through the eyes of her by her ever-watchful friends -- the other residents in her building -- the numerous social constraints she's expected to obey. Anchored by a terrific performance by Abbass, Satin Rouge
shows that the idea of women's self-actualization knows few continental divides.