An assured new voice in Arab cinema comes in the form of this well-acted Tunisian drama infused with suspense and uncertainty.
Dir. Mehdi Barsaoui
2019 | Tunisia | Drama | 95 mins | 1.85:1 | Arabic & French
Not rated (likely to be PG13 for some mature themes)
Cast: Sami Bouajila, Najla Ben Abdallah, Youssef Khemiri
Plot: The holiday to Southern country ends in disaster for Fares, Meriem and their 10-year-old son Aziz when he is accidentally shot in an ambush. His injury will change their lives as Aziz needs a liver transplant, which leads to the discovery of a long-buried secret.
Awards: Won Orrizonti Award – Best Actor (Venice)
International Sales: Jour2Fete
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Along with Nimrod Eldar’s The Day After I’m Gone (2019), A Son is another excellent feature debut stemming from the Middle East that deserves attention. In this one, Tunisian writer-director Mehdi Barsaoui tackles a myriad of issues—politics, family, religion and law—within a fairly brisk 90 minutes.
It’s a complex film situated in its context: it is the early 2010s as neighbouring Tripoli in Libya is about to fall while insurgency across the border is rising. A family from Tunisia is out having fun when they are inexplicably attacked by a group of terrorists.
Although they manage to escape in time, their young son is shot and in need of critical medical assistance. The film centers on the aftermath as husband and wife share a distressing secret about each other.
Barsaoui’s film is special because it manages to locate this personal story within the larger context of what might be going wrong with Tunisia, and the effects of continued strife in the region.
Despite the tense filmmaking that centers on a life-and-death uncertainty, Barsaoui manages to let his film breathe in several introspective moments, particularly through shots of the open landscape.
Original scoring by Amin Bouhafa (of Timbuktu, 2014) echoes the style of Gustavo Santaolalla’s music for the early works of Alejandro G. Inarritu, giving the film an ethnic flavour that doesn’t overpower the performances or narrative.
The dilemmas and suspense feel so real that even after the film has ended, it is difficult not to continue worrying for the family’s future.