Arts & Entertainment

Ben Hania’s obsessive quest for justice reaches Oscars

Natalia Román Morte

Tunis, Apr 4 (efe-epa).- The search for justice and a balance of power is the obsession that lurks between the frames of each of the films of director Kaouther Ben Hania, who spoke to Efe about her latest work, “The Man Who Sold His Skin,” the first Tunisian film in history to be nominated for an Oscar.

After being shortlisted in 2019 with her film “Beauty and the Herd,” which tells the true story of a young woman who was raped by several policemen and her struggle to obtain justice, the director takes another step towards the statuette that, she hopes, will help her “continue making films in an easier way.”

“I feel like I did when I got my high school diploma, which allowed me to become an adult, to leave my parents’ house and become independent. To live in a different way. The feeling is somewhat similar,” she jokes in an interview in the Tunisian capital a few hours before the world premiere of her latest film.

Ben Hania, 43, who hails from the same southern city where the revolution that ended two decades of dictatorship was sparked, admits the movie represents a source of pride and a glimmer of hope after a complicated year. With this new democratic era, she hopes that the world will be able to see the “marvelous energy of creation in Tunisia”.

In her latest film, the screenwriter tells the story of war-torn Syria in which a young Sam is willing to do anything to reach Europe to reunite with the love of his life and achieve his freedom.

But on his journey he meets a cynical artist who will propose a deal with the devil: to tattoo a Schengen visa on his body in exchange for becoming an artwork to be sold to the highest bidder.

“We live in a terrible period in which the circulation of merchandise is freer than that of humans: by transforming Sam into a commodity I offer him the opportunity to materialize as a human being,” boasts the artist, both his savior and jailer, played by the Belgian Koen De Bouw, in one of the film’s more transgressive scenes.

Although the filmmaker insists that her goal is not to raise awareness, “there are issues that obsess me. Justice is the obsession of human beings because we live in an unjust world, always has been and always will be.”

As in her three previous feature films, the protagonist, played by Syrian actor Yahya Mahayni – awarded Best Male Performance at the last Venice Biennale – pushes the viewer to the limit and pulls down that mirage of the “European dream” to the point of placing him at a crossroads.

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