It comes as quite a surprise that Arab Blues is writer/director Manele Labidi’s first feature length film. It has the effortless nature of an experienced director. With bold colours, fierce women, and a playful attitude towards sex and death, this could very well be an Almodovar number.
The lead role, Selma Derwich, Psychoanalyst, is played by Golshifteh Farahani who you will likely remember alongside Adam Driver in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson. She has returned to Tunis after a long stretch in Paris, having decided to set up her own psychotherapy practice. As it turns out, the rules and customs of her native land may be too difficult for her to navigate.
Is Selma a local or a foreigner? She is recognised as both, and neither. Referred to as “Miss France”, subtle comedy arises through interactions with the locals. They are impressed by her intellect and worldliness, only to wind up bemused by how dense she can be about their way of life. Arab Blues contains a world of opposites. She is smart yet stupid. Savvy yet foolish. Pay close enough attention and you will be rewarded with brief cameos from David Hasselhoff, Demis Roussos and Julio Iglesias.
As a title for the English release “Arab Blues” works, but I prefer the original title “Un Divan à Tunis” (A Couch in Tunis) because status & authority (or lack thereof) seems entirely determined by the seat in which each person is sitting. Multiple scenes see characters butting heads over who may sit where.
The film is complemented by the soundtrack which includes Città Vuota by Mina and original music by Fleming Nordkrog, a hugely prolific film composer.
As she moves her belongings into her apartment, one man notices Selma’s framed portrait of Freud wearing a fez. He asks “Is he your father?” A simple enquiry that is oh so much deeper than he could know.
Arab Blues is a strong debut from a sharp mind. Manele Labidi is one to watch.
WoW Film Festival
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