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A Tale Of Love And Desire: A Sensitive Look Into Arab Masculinity by Tunisian director Leyla Bouzid

by Valentine Fabre

 For those who, insiatiably, watched British TV show Sex Education, it is difficult to forget Sami Outalbali’s touching and romantic character Rahim. His recognizable French accent, and profound personality put him at the forefront of the British scene. But at the beginning of September it’s in the French movie A Tale Of Love And Desire that he went back to his roots. 

Directed by Tunisian-French directress, Leyla Bouzid, the movie illustrates a love story between two young students, Ahmed (Sami Outalbali), born and raised in the suburbs of Paris, and the bubbly Farah (Zbeida Belhajamor), freshly arriving from Tunis. They met on their first day at The Sorbonne University where they are pursuing a degree in literature. However, when Ahmed discovers a corpus of erotic and sensual Arabic literature, he is torn between his obvious love for Farah, his sexual desires, and his will to repress it. 


A Tale Of Love And Desire is a cultural reset that goes against the stereotypes towards Arab people established by centuries of colonialism and French White Supremacy. 

Leyla Bouzid’s tour de force is her authentic portrayal of the many meanings of being Arab in France. Ahmed and Farah are placing themselves at the opposite of what is being shown in French media. Inspired by the director’s surroundings, Ahmed demonstrates a strong sense of self identity, through his love for literature. Meanwhile, Farah is breaking any presupposed sterotypes about what it is to be North African. “I wanted to show that French people from North African origins often misunderstand the North African youth,” explains Leyla Bouzind in an interview for Le Point Afrique. To the point where she will be the one helping Ahmed in his quest for emancipation and to reconnect with his origin. Especially when he is forced to have an Arabic poem translated by his father, a language the student doesn’t speak, nor read. 

This movie doesn’t dig into the traumas of being Arab in France but more into the identity multiplicity, rarely portrayed in the French film industry. The movie is a refreshing portray of intimity, desire, prudishness and self-discovery, but also an homage to 18th century Arabic erotic litterature. Leyla Bouzid’s wish was to showcase Arabic masculinity in a truer form. “We are rarely interested in the intimity of people living in suburbs, as if it was only made of conflicts,” said the director. 

Very rightly, Sami Outalbali won the prize for Best Male Actor at the Film Festival of Angouleme, while the movie won the award for Best Film. This film is a must watch for French speaking individuals. It is a story that finally shows an accurate and deeper version of Arab people, but is also for anybody who is looking for a story about desire and love. 


Top Photo: Screenshot from YouTube 

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