Shot in nine long takes, this Tunisian drama about systemic failure economically if harrowingly shows us what it feels like to suffer under pervasive toxic masculinity, as a woman on a night out tries to seek justice after being sexually assaulted by several policemen.
Cast: Mariam Al Ferjani, Ghanem Zrelli, Noomen Hamda
Plot: A college student seeks help after a brutal assault but faces a bureaucratic nightmare when she reveals that her perpetrators are police officers.
Awards: Nom. for Un Certain Regard Award (Cannes)
International Sales: Jour2Fete
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature – Sexual Assault; Toxic Masculinity; Systemic Failure
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
The first fiction feature by Kaouther Ben Hania (whose The Man Who Sold His Skin was recently nominated for an Oscar for Best International Feature), Beauty and the Dogs is quite an assured piece of work, particularly her vindicative choice of segmenting the narrative into nine parts and shooting them as long takes.
We follow Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani in an excellent display of psychological and emotional vulnerability), as she prepares for a night out with friends at a university dorm party. It’s all cheers and fun until she is sexually assaulted by several policemen on patrol.
Together with Youssef, a male acquaintance whom she met at the party, they encounter one institutional obstacle after another in an attempt to seek both medical attention and criminal redress.
“Go home, get some rest, think it over.”
Ben Hania’s camera, always centering on Mariam, captures her trauma with authenticity—there’s no respite and that’s the point of the long takes, where technique and form meet its troubling subject matter like hand to glove.
Apparently based on a true story that happened several years back, Beauty and the Dogs’ punishing experience for its protagonist is an explicit indictment of the pervasive toxic masculinity and systemic failure that are not just present in Tunisian society, but in many parts of the world where bureaucratic nightmares are an everyday occurrence.
Despite being pushed by Youssef to go all out to defend her rights as an aggrieved citizen, Mariam remains conflicted by attempts from the police and the law to sweep everything under the carpet.
Economically told and harrowing at times, Beauty and the Dogs is worth seeing as part of a new wave of emerging Tunisian filmmakers, including Mohamed Ben Attia (2016’s Hedi) and Mehdi Barsaoui (2019’s A Son).