A Tale of Love and Desire
Director-screenwriter Leyla Bouzid’s A Tale of Love and Desire isn’t as simplistic and self-explanatory as its title sounds: boy meets girl, except boy is complicated by not being as wealthy as those around him, living in estate housing and working part-time just to keep himself at their level, and girl isn’t a manic pixie-dream trope of romance – she is confident and outspoken, and makes the first move.
Even the controversial opening scene subverts conventions: an Arab man in a sensual and cinematically pleasing shower scene, which is a rare sight. Ahmed (Sami Outabali), an 18-year-old French-Algerian, prepares for his first day at La Sorbonne. He seems to have everything planned out, however, he doesn’t count on Tunisian Farah (Zbeida Belhajamor), also preparing for her first day, but in a much less controlled way.
The chemistry wastes no time and builds to a reaction from the very first scene the leads share, wherein Ahmed merely gazes longingly at her from afar. The camera even seems to pan from his viewpoint, not daring to inch closer. The combination then bubbles uncontrollably as they interact, awkwardly at first, crammed into a subway carriage. Navigation and eventual discovery are key motifs. Just as in an adventure movie, Ahmed and Farah venture long distances to ultimately meet. Despite being born in Paris, Ahmed lacks knowledge, but wants to learn, especially with Farah, so, he does what anyone on the hunt for answers does, and turns to Google. But he is not prepared for the reality he finds.
Literature surprisingly bridges the long gap between them, as they seek out titles for their Arabic class. When they find an erotic book, two sides of a coin, or Arab culture, are presented, not just contrasting with each other, but with an audience’s stereotypical views of the characters. The protagonists’ views on sex and desire couldn’t be any different, yet they meld together, figuratively, and literally; they learn more from each other than from their Arabic language professor, Anne Morel (Aurélia Petit). Ahmed learns to get over his arguably old-fashioned views, and Farah learns to respect a viewpoint different from the one she’s been surrounded by thus far.
A Tale of Love and Desire wouldn’t have its title if the main question wasn’t the will they/won’t they aspect of the relationship, but this is a deeper dive into sex in other cultures, demonstrating how crucial this aspect is for all relationships – not just romantic ones. Ahmed is abrasive at times, even to his own family because of the shame embedded, blood-deep, into him. A lot of contrivances are attached to the plot, such as why Ahmed would take a class that clearly made him uncomfortable, but this is common in many romance features. Bouzid’s is nothing groundbreaking, but still enjoyable, regardless.
A Tale of Love and Desire does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
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Watch the trailer for A Tale of Love and Desire here: