Ferid Boughedir’s warm, sensual and witty “Halfaouine--Boy of the Terraces” is one of the most exquisitely told coming-of-age tales imaginable. Boughedir’s graceful, supple style expresses his affection for the ancient Halfaouine quarter of Tunis, which is his film’s setting, and above all, his love for women.
One of the Arab world’s leading film critics, Boughedir, in his feature debut, in fact worships women, celebrating their beauty, dignity and eternal mystery. In doing so he cannot but remind us of how all too rare this view surfaces in contemporary world cinema.
We meet his “boy of the terraces,” the handsome 13-year-old Noura (Selim Boughedir, the director’s talented nephew), not on the neighborhood rooftops (or terraces)--where he retreats to sort out his thoughts, emotions and dreams--but in a women’s Turkish bath. As he has countless times before, he has gone there with his beautiful, loving mother (Rabia Ben Abdallah), but this time is different: He becomes aware, perhaps for the first time, of his attraction to the opposite sex, something which the bath’s elderly proprietor’s sharp eyes do not miss.
Although Selim hangs out with two older guys, he has in fact entered a period of limbo for an Arab male adolescent. He’s just become too old to spend too much time with women, who’ve clearly fussed over him all his life, yet he’s still too young for the company of men. This leaves him considerably on his own since, in his community, men and women live virtually separate social lives.
He’s not close to his father (Mustapha Adouani), a sometimes bullying traditional macho type who runs a fabric shop and who flirts with his female customers. His mentor is the local shoemaker, Salih (Mohammed Driss), a would-be playwright, a free spirit and unapologetic libertine. Through Salih’s outspokenness Boughedir reveals that considerable political oppressiveness casts a shadow over Halfaouine’s otherwise embracing community life.
Much of Noura’s story takes place in the large patio of his family’s fine, spacious old home. His mother, various female relatives and their friends spend so much time there that the atmosphere is that of a harem. Renoir-like in its wisdom, compassion and earthy sensuality, “Halfaouine” captures the paradoxical quality of its society, which is loaded with traditional proscriptions that in their repressiveness ironically serve to spark an erotic charge, sometimes expressed with much sexual innuendo, between men and women.
A film of more observation than plot--and much natural, seemingly effortless acting--"Halfaouine” finds Boughedir celebrating the pleasures of everyday life with a loving sense of humor--the friendly, spirited exchanges between customers and merchants, the camaraderie of the barber shop, the communal experience of the baths. What Boughedir is really doing is taking us into a world largely unchanged from the past--computers, TVs and other electronic miracles are not in evidence. He leaves us sensing that just as Noura has begun to turn from boy into man his world most likely will change as much as he will.
* Unrated. Times guidelines: Some nudity, considerable sensuality.
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‘Halfaouine--Boy of the Terraces’
Selim Boughedir: Noura
Rabia Ben Abdallah: Djamila, the Mother
Mustapha Adouani: Si Azzouz,the Father
Mohammed Driss: Salih, the Shoemaker
An International Film Circuit presentation of a Franco-Tunisian co-production of Cinetelefilms (Tunis), Scarabee Films (Paris), France Media, La Sept (Paris), Tunisian Radio-Television and Westdeutscher Rundfunk (Cologne). Writer-director Ferid Boughedir. Adaptation Maryse Leon Garcia, Nourid Bouzid. Dialogue Taoufik Jebail. Producers Ahmed Baha Attia, Eliane Stutterheim, Hassen Daidoul. Cinematographer Georges Barsky. Editor Moufida Tiatli. Costumes Naama Jazi. Music Anouar Braham.. Art directors Taieb Jallouli, Claude Bennys. In Arabic, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.
* Exclusively at the Nuart Theater, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 478-6379.