At the crossroads: the status of women in Nouri Bouzid's four full-length films

Rivoire, Celine (2003) At the crossroads: the status of women in Nouri Bouzid's four full-length films. (MPhil thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis aims at analysing the status of women within Nouri Bouzid's four full-length films: Man of Ashes, Golden Horeseshoes, Bezness and Bent Familia. Tunisian cinema was the first North African national cinema to denounce the living conditions of the individual within the community while, in Algeria, for example, directors were still preoccupied with the fight of the community against an oppressive power. In the first part of the thesis, we will see how Bouzid deals with women within the family group. The ensuing debate is that of individual rights and desires within such a community and how women are thus victimised and confined to a precise set of roles: that of a mother and, of a wife. The institution of marriage binds them to their husbands and later to their children. The father becomes the almighty head of the family and either his wife comforts him in this role or quietly suffers hundreds of years of tradition and submission. Bouzid emphasises that such a society leaves no room for personal expectations and desires. Divorce is not an option for Tunisian society and consequently, the status of a divorcee in Tunisia is unenviable. Needless to say that in this set background, a woman's body is to be protected and hidden from male sight. Because it lacks a penis, a woman's body is considered to be incomplete and inferior to that of men. The only important thing for a girl is to remain a virgin until her wedding night; she needs to wear a veil in order not to arouse men's desire but Bouzid uses it as an object of seduction. Most of the brides fear their wedding night as much as the groom. Indeed, the films show that the fear of being hurt equals the male's fear of publicly proving his lack of virility. This first sexual intercourse is not the best start a couple can get and most of the time, women are confined in their role of wives who cannot express their desires and whose role is to give birth and sexually satisfy their husbands, as Bent Familia demonstrates. Because women can arouse men's desire and take them away from God, they have to wear the veil when they go outside; but the safest measure is to confine them within their homes. The four films emphasise how the outside world has thus become the male sphere and the inside women's own space. The latter is organised according to their physical moves. The patio is the central room of the house where women perform the housework and any chores involving the use of water. Their whole life is confined within that space but for a few exceptions. Fred and Aida's flats, respectively in Bezness and Bent Familia, the beach or the Marabout allow women to relax and escape from their assigned roles. But to study the status of women implies to study male / female relationships within the couple as well as in society in general.

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