a subtle sarabande on the way to enjoyment


For some, the path to enjoyment is not a straight line, but a dark, winding path overgrown with brambles and weeds. This could be the subject of Leyla Bouzid’s second feature film (I hardly open my eyes, 2015), born in Tunis in 1984, trained at the Sorbonne and at the Fémis, which offers a new variation on the theme of sentimental education. A young man discovers love and desire at the same time, in the same place, and must therefore invent new ways to tune the spiritual essence of one with the bodily flame of the other. Classic motif of the training novel that the director has the good idea, here, to recast in the Arab culture that her young characters, both from the Maghreb, share.

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Ahmed (Sami Outalbali) leaves the city where he grew up in the Parisian suburbs, with his parents exiled from Algeria, to study letters at the Sorbonne. There he meets Farah (Zbeida Belhajamor), a student recently arrived from Tunis. A chance: she is enrolled in the same course of comparative literature as him, devoted this year to secular Arab poetry, which was not afraid of eroticism. The corpus thus constitutes, in fact, a perfect ground of rapprochement for the lovebirds. But at each opportunity, Ahmed slows down with four hoofs, delays, dodges. Excessive modesty? Vow of chastity? Normative eye of the city that watches over him? Like the poets he studies, the young man above all tends to sublimate his emotions, as if to idealize the chosen one of his heart: everything about him goes through his head. It remains to find the path of the gesture, vector of the expression of desire, and therefore of the passage to the act.

Read the interview (2015): Leyla Bouzid: “I wanted us to see the look of a young woman on the body of a man”

In such a love story, it is the spirit of retention that makes all the interest, in that it disavows the hedonism in vogue, to reconnect with the classic tradition of temporization. To restrain oneself, for the hero, is at the same time of the order of the offense (thus making undergo a rebuff with the sensuality of Farah) that the arduous road of a morality taught by literature (to wait, it is increase the pleasure). Everything then depends on the contingent or chosen character covered by this expectation, tilting, depending on the frigidity of the pain-to-enjoy, or the promise of a higher enjoyment.

Disavow popular hedonism to reconnect with the classic tradition of procrastination

Classical tradition, certainly, but one of which Leyla Bouzid likes to reverse the roles: here, it is the boy who delays the moment to give himself, while the young woman, conqueror, actively desires and makes it clear. To film this contained desire, the director judiciously opts for a balanced staging, without effusion, which respects the integrity of the body, resituates it in the environment (from the dormitory city to the streets of the Latin Quarter), except when it it’s about approaching faces. From the silhouette to the close-up, it is a subtle sarabande of desire that plays out, a waltz-hesitation in which the bodies in tension become magnetized at the same time as they hold each other in respect.

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