About « La saison des hommes »

Interview with Moufida Tlatli, by Olivier Barlet

Cannes, May 2000
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« La Saison des hommes » refers to the time when the men return from their place of work, Tunis, to their wives in Djerba. This much-awaited return turns out to be very difficult experience…
You come to understand that things do not fall back into place so easily, despite the regularity: this return does not restore order, but disorder. Life is disorderly beforehand, calms a little during the preparations. Then you realize that the preparations are more important than the reunion, thanks to this solidarity between the women who have to support one another because they all suffer the same fate. That of being in a state of waiting, each in their own way, and knowing that at the end of the month, they will be thrust into this women’s world again, under the authority of this mother-in-law. Against her will, she reinstates order in a highly effective manner, but it is very painful for these women… What I wanted to convey is that the women are very much responsible for this heritage in spite of themselves. They hand it on from daughter to daughter, and if they don’t decide to stop it one day, it will never end. This time, I understand the men in this film: they are trapped in an economic system which is not viable, they provide the necessary so that the women lack nothing. Yet, they lack the essential: they are all ill-at-ease in their bodies, and one month cannot repair the sufferings of the body. Only time, the confidence between a man and a woman, can do that. They never have the chance to experience this because as soon as he arrives, the man is harassed by the mother. That is what’s essential, and I know that the answer is time, and working on oneself. We lack this culture of the self in the Arab world: that is why it takes longer than elsewhere. I personally went to film school, worked as a film editor for twenty years, am happily married, have children, and yet my emotional age is stuck at twelve years old, it hasn’t moved on! During certain parts of the film, I cried and cried, I cried whilst shooting… This blockage is the cause of immense suffering. Everyone tells me that I have all I could wish for, and I wonder if I want more than other people… But the childhood terrors remain, unless you are fortunate enough not to be too sensitive! I still have nightmares!
You very successfully express this confinement, these frustrations through the autistic child character, Aziz…
Aïcha wants to change, but too quickly, not at the pace of Djerba and Tunisia’s time and space. She wants this boy who will free her and allow her to go to Tunis, and at the same time, she doesn’t want this child, because he also signifies the male superiority over women. Aziz is thus the product of desire and non-desire, an autistic child who, in the end, puts her back in her original space as she gives up. What’s the point in fighting given the result? Her only hope is that the child will calm down, and start to concentrate on the red woven threads… It is neither a triumphant nor a tragic ending, because if I had opted for a tragic end in today’s Tunisia, I would have be reprimanded because it the country in which women are the freest in the Arab world! It is true that there are laws and that they are irreversible, but democracy is an eternal struggle: it will never end, it is like the myth of Sisyphus! The issues concerning women are a struggle which will take more time because you free their heads, you send them to school, you teach them, they becomes directors, or pilots, or whatever you like, and their bodies continue to suffer… It may not always be the case: I don’t generalize, I only speak about what I know… I would have liked to have chosen the title « My body hurts », it would have been more apt…
I was struck by the extent to which you express the culture of the unsaid in your images.
Yes, the women only ululate with joy when a boy is born, and a broken plate expresses a refusal…
What do you advocate: revolt or resistance?
To my mind, both are right, both are necessary! The film explores different paths without advocating any one. Consciousness is universal today: women demand that their bodies no longer be a sexual object, whilst for centuries, they were practically nullified, a receptacle for men’s desires, and they have not learnt either to do what they have to. There is a divide: we need to learn little by little. The slightest thing in the film will seem very risqué in Tunisia. When the woman gently says: « please caress me », it’s a revolution in Djerba! The Djerban men are going to be mad at me! They will say: « our wives never say that to us »! But I know inside that it is like that, I am not a unique case, many things which are in the film have happened to me… I have the advantage of dialogue, of that possibility of communicating with my husband, with my entourage, but a quest remains… A film changes nothing, but if it makes people think a little, that is in itself a great joy. I have the advantage of my path in life which helps me to be daring. There are sentences which I cut from the dialogue and then re-wrote. I said to myself: « She will remain silent, we will sense it », then I said: « No, she is going to say it. I am going to say it! »
One character in the film says: « In Djerba, the sea is always at the end of every road », and in one magnificent scene, we also see the women preparing themselves in the sea. What is the symbolism of the sea for you?
It is something that is very important for me because it is a matter of birth and happiness for the body. The women are confident in the water: they are foetuses who swim in the sea of their bodies. The water makes things easier…
How did you conceive of the film’s rhythm?
The film is inherent in me, it is my way of feeling things… With the camera, we united our heart beats, and we approached things in the same way, with the same slowness as the women, as everything is slow for them. I sense the camera in a very carnal way. For me, it is really the rhythm of these women who live in the houses around this vast open courtyard space , of the time that passes by, eleven months stretching before them with very little to do, the husband being away… These women take time too, because they put all their sensuality into it. They are not in the working world, they are not stressed. Their slowness is no longer tolerated in the context of world cinema. I followed Emna’s rhythm on the other hand. She rebels, goes fast, dances, breaks things off very fast, speaks on the phone, against her mother’s will, grabs her things and rushes off.
Your film counters the image of the highly emancipated Tunisian woman. One gets the impression that the law has not yet filtered down into reality. Why?
Time will sort things out because it is not about laws, it is about changing mentalities. Things will not change in men or women’s minds with a wave of a magic wand and laws. I show the combat from within. I know that women are emancipated. They are beginning to ask themselves questions, but it isn’t so for everyone. The division between the educated and not educated, the town and the countryside, between such-and-such a milieu, the elite and modest folk, is constant. The what-will-people-think is much more important in modest milieux… It is another battle which needs fighting: the opinion of others who judge every gesture. All of this is part of today’s Tunisia, it is complex. It is not a straight line. I work between the lines…

///Article N° : 5475


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