For a long time, Arab cinema was synonymous with the Egyptian film industry. Understandably so, the North African nation was responsible for the region’s biggest film output – pushing Arab actors straight to Hollywood.
Egypt’s low-key neighbour, Tunisia, has low-key managed to carve out a respectable film industry of its own throughout the years. Dating back to the 1920s, the Tunisian film industry has grown extensively – despite its lack of industry acclaim.
With films delving into subjects considered taboo in the region, it’s no surprise that the industry has stayed local for so long. But with plotlines in Arab cinema growing more and more diverse, it’s time for that to change.
If you’re not familiar with the Tunisian film industry, these are the best Tunisian films to watch.
A Summer in La Goulette
If there’s one Tunisian must-watch film, it’s A Summer in La Goulette. The 1996 film, directed by filmmaker Ferid Boughedir is a Tunisian classic. The film sees a friendship group (comprised of a Jewish, Muslim and Catholic girls) growing up in the La Goulette neighbourhood. They decide to lose their virginity.
The Silences of the Palace
Moufida Tlatli’s The Silences of the Palace, which marked Hend Sabry’s acting debut, also cleverly investigates gender-related issues. Set in 1950s Tunisia, the film is centred on a young woman, Alia, who returns to the palace where her mother works as a maid and serves as the prince’s mistress.
Released in 2002, Satin Rouge was Raja Amari’s directorial debut. The film is a feminist manifesto in more ways than one. The Tunisian director and screenwriter cast Hiam Abbass as Lilia, a middle-aged widow who stumbles into cabaret, and finds herself living a new life.
The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul
The story begins with Bab’Aziz, a blind dervish who aimlessly wanders the desert with his granddaughter, in search of a mystical Sufi meeting that occurs once every 30 years.
Despite having been released in 2018, Dachra made history as Tunisia’s first horror movie. The film, directed by Abdelhamid Bouchnak, sees a journalism student and his friends trapped in an isolated village whilst attempting to solve a decades-old criminal case.
Halfaouine: Child of the Terraces
Yet another Ferid Boughedir film that is iconic in Tunisia. The film sees Noura (a 12-year-old boy going through puberty) explore his sexual curiosity. A move that ultimately finds him banned from the hammams he used to go to with his mother, due to a new habit of peeping on his neighbour.
Directed by Mohamed Zran, Essaida delves deep inside the realities of life in the poor neighbourhoods of Tunis. The film begins with Amine and Nidal’s happenstance meeting in downtown Tunis. We go on to see Amine, a painter living in the fancy neighbourhood of Carthage, get confronted with the socio-economic disparities in Tunis as he befriends Nidal, a young boy who spends his days begging for money.