By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act June 3, 2014 at 2:07PM
Selected as one of 3 films selected for a new initiative called Final Cut In Venice, dedicated to "supporting African films in the post-production phase," is Tunisian filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania's Le Challat de Tunis (Challat of Tunis), which is based on a true 2003 story of a mysterious man on a motorcycle, who rode through the streets of Tunis (the country's capital) carrying a razor blade, on a mission: to slash the butts of women he came across on the city’s streets, whom he felt weren't dressed appropriately.
Yes, you read that correctly.
They called him "Le Challat," which is most likely a bastardization of the word "Gillette" – the famous razor brand.
From one neighborhood to the next, rumors about the mysterious man started to spread. Some said he was a religious nut, others said he was the member of an inactive cell of Al-Qaida intent on punishing women whom he felt openly mocked its ideology. People also said that Le Challat was on some kind of a revenge mission, because his own wife, cheated on him. And with the threat of Le Challat hanging over them, Tunisian women even considered changing the way they dressed, to essentially meet the slasher's expectations of how a Tunisian woman should dress: no more tight jeans, or mini skirts, etc. He was on everyone's lips and minds, but no one had ever seen this man face-to-face.
Years later, director Ben Hania took up the challenge of investigating the legend of Le Challat on film, in the feature project Le Challat de Tunis, which was selected to open the ACID program at this year's edition of the Cannes International Film Festival. ACID is a French film directors association seeking to promote the distribution of independent films.
Its ACID screening was generally well-received, albeit with a few concerns. Here's a piece of Variety's review:
Mockumentaries generally have culturally specific elements that play best to local audiences, and Kaouther Ben Hania’s hilarious and acerbic “Challat of Tunis” is a prime example. Ostensibly about the helmer’s search for a man who slashed 11 women from his motorbike back in 2003, the pic shines a discomfiting light on Tunisia’s attitudes toward women, using a fake-docu approach that many outside the Arab world won’t fully grasp, at least at the start. Foreknowledge should ease any hesitation at laughter, which means critical hype will be vital, though the film will work best with diasporan communities at targeted showcases.
Director Hania planned to make a straightforward documentary on the Challat, but, following the Tunisian Revolution of 2011, she rethought the project as more of a mock-documentary, using the Challat story to interrogate the sexual politics of her newly democratic homeland.
The film contains fake and real interviews with slasher victims, investigators, lawyers and regular folks, as it narrows in on the title character, the Challat, who turns out to be "a hotheaded mummy's boy who models himself on Al Pacino in Scarface," as The Hollywood Reporter's review states.
No USA playdates have been announced yet, but I dug up a trailer for the film, giving you a first look at it, embedded below.
The Final Cut In Venice, dedicated to "supporting African films in the post-production phase," is a product of the Biennale di Venezia (the Venice Biennale, home of the Venice International Film Festival).
The program (in collaboration with the Festival International du Film d’Amiens and the Festival International de Film de Fribourg) takes place during the festival, as part of the Venice Film Market, where the work-in-progress copies of the 3 selected films were presented to an audience of producers, buyers, distributors and international festival programmers, to foster possible partnerships for co-production or access to the distribution market.
The other 2 films selected, which I've profiled in past posts, were:
1 - From Egyptian auteur Ibrahim El Batout (Winter of Discontent), a Cairo-set action thriller titled The Cat, which centers on the very topical human organ trafficking in Egypt. The country's recent political upheavals, which have left a law enforcement gap in the country, have reportedly allowed mob-led organ-trafficking rings to thrive.
3 - And, from Madagascar comes director Lova Nantenaina's documentary, Avec Presque Rien... (With almost nothing...). The film is a portrait of the many Malagasy people, who, through ingenuity and resourcefulness, are surviving despite economic hardship - hardships mostly ignored by the local and international press. Director Nantenaina's stated goal with the film is to insert the viewer directly into the lives of the people she documents on camera, to highlight their efforts to adapt to economic crises without end.
Here's the trailer for Le Challat de Tunis: