Directed by: Leyla Bouzid
Written by: Leyla Bouzid, Marie-Sophie Chambon
Produced by: Sandra da Fonseca, Bertrand Gore, Imed Marzouk, Nathalie Mesuret, Anthony Rey
Starring: Baya Medhaffer, Ghalia Benali, Montassar Ayari, Lassaad Jamoussi Aymen Omrani
This film is on currently on Netflix
As I Open My Eyes pushes us into the world of a teen who wants to be a singer, rebels against the government, gender roles, and a mother who straddles the line between keeping her daughter safe, and happy and content while attempting to bury her own demons from her rebellious youth. The film takes place in modern Tunisia, around the time the main character, Farah, (Baya Medhaffer) and her band are gaining popularity. Farah, as a character, just wants to make out with her boyfriend and perform her music. What seeks to stop this is her mother, Hayet (Ghalia Benali) and her constant battling with her daughter to stop performing, drinking publicly, and stop speaking out on the government. Later on as we see in the film a mostly nondescript government and complacent male population are what can be the blame at attempting to halt Farah’s protesting. The government feels especially absent, not on purpose, I think, but simply because the threat is not that immediate, and what is at stake is the collapse of the support system of the family. The lack of feeling engaged is what lacks in the film.
Most of the tension is carried, when Farah and Hayet are on screen together. Their always seems to be a sense of jealousy, competition, envy and also profound care between them. In scenes where Hayet talks with Farah in her room, near her window, beautifully framed to give the audience the feel of a Tunisian summer and way of life—biting to make the next move—in beautiful, sleek, dresses that accentuate her your youth, you can tell that she has been, and in some ways still is in this same place as Farah. Their rocky relationship owes itself to another cause in Hayet’s separation from Farah’s father (Mahmoud, played by Lassaad Jamoussi) due to a supposed scandal, has an unspoken, unwitnessed, but subtly felt impact on her treatment of Farah. Hayet is portrayed wonderfully by Benali as a woman still looking for acceptance and to be showered by love. And yet the remarkable thing about this is that she never becomes too overbearing of Farah, and like Farah, is a victim of the same suppression of an explorative spirit that Farah not only possesses, but behaves with. Although the opening shot is a close up of gorgeous, jubilant, unassuming, Farah, the film, I would argue, is not entirely about her, but that the future of the country depends on limitless expression. In scenes where Farah and her band perform at public drinking halls, on the streets, night clubs, and outdoor bars, they inspire their fans (mostly men) to sing and well, to protest.
In this film, director, Leyla Bouzid, does a good job in showing how men, in not understanding their own issues and complacency are the reason for their own oppression and, of Farah’s. This proposes a more investigative look into the problems that face the country and Farah. As a result they become unknowingly to themselves, the villains. Farah’s boyfriend and the band’s lead guitarist, Borhene (Montassar Ayari) is the classic, slightly needing of approval older guy to her young girl in love. Borhene at one point, at a party, tries to run her and later ends up becoming another part of the pieces trying to silence her. Muhmoud is not too long away from this as he is a complacent man who never fights for her. In essence the film is about control, and how do you protect the ones you love, how much is protection, very much like Fences, what is protection, and how much of what you’re doing is protection, and how much of it is attributing fear and other inhibitions upon open but unknowing souls? What frees Farah is her singing, her expression, certain moral fiber and a jovial spirit that helps her keep going. Also, it is her mother, who in trying to tame her, tries to prepare her for the future. Like all artists, Farah only need support from the people who love her the most. This idea truly makes this film about letting things go so that the future may have a chance.