This is an arduous film from Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania and perhaps rightly so. The plot deals with a 21-year-old university student who is raped by two policemen after they pick her up on a romantic stroll. She’s with a boy she’s recently met at a party. The boy is handcuffed and incapacitated. But the victim is Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani). Patently distraught, she attempts to bring a complaint against her assailants and in doing so faces up to deliberately knotty, staggeringly uncaring, bureaucratic, incurious and systemically misogynist authorities that wish her simply to go away.
The opening scene is excellent. Miriam is getting changed in the toilets at the party she’s organised. The previous dress has a hole in it. A friend has brought her new attire, a sleek, satin blue dress. This is more provocative, more suggestive of promiscuousness, more indicative of permissiveness, and as Miriam tugs and covers it over the rest of the tortuous night, we are engulfed in a culture of victim-shaming, conservative morality and male hypocrisy. The film suggests that this is a culture so pervasive that a pregnant female police officer will call Miriam a whore. After the attack, we are presented with an unstoppable cavalcade of injustice. Miriam is treated as a criminal, a liar, a pest an exaggerator, an inconsequence. Character after character, most of whom are male and repugnant, display the mineral form of malevolence and disregard. Her new companion from the beach, Youssef (Ghanem Zrelli), is a willing but ultimately impotent assistant. His taste for the politics of rights is useless here.
The chaptered narrative is broken up by long, continuous shots that don’t relent on Miriam’s pursuit and quite questionably seem to aestheticise her anguish. There is something inadequate about this. The subject is undoubtedly worth attention, but the manner of delivery is stagey and some of the performances overdone. The rapists, when they finally appear on screen, look and act ridiculously, like parodies of bent 70s coppers. Have they become so self-delusional that these personas aim to excuse them of their misdeeds? It’s difficult to be sure, but the one-note, uncomplicated depiction of authoritarian evil undermines the rhetorical case of the film. The world that legitimises sexual violence towards women is often a far more insidious one. But the message here is clear and inarguable – the men are the dogs.
Alaa Kaf Ifrit (Beauty and the Dogs) does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch a clip from Alaa Kaf Ifrit (Beauty and the Dogs) here: