Q&A: Hidden Beauties
18.10.2012 - Tunisian director Nouri Bouzid's most
recent feature, Hidden Beauties, which has its world premiere at this
year's ADFF in the Narrative Competition, is the story of two women
who stand up for themselves and what they believe in amidst the
chaos of the recent revolution. The political and social turmoil is
of his homeland is a topic very close to the veteran director, who
was himself jailed by the Ben Ali regime for five years. Bouzid,
who is a guest of the Festival this week, took some time to sit
with us and answer our questions.
What inspired you to make this film? Talk to us about
its development and the creation of the characters.
Well, I've researched this topic extensively and had conversations
with many women about the topic. I was on the jury at the Cairo
Film Festival, and one of my female friends (who is not veiled) was
harassed on the street by men as if she was their possession and
they had every right to her body.
This incident really angered me and inspired my story, so when I
spoke to her about it she was very keen; however Egypt rejected the
concept. They felt it was too controversial and against Islamic
beliefs to have a film like that made there, so I moved the story
The film was initially supposed to be called
Mille-feuille, which is the sweet that the girls are
making in the film. However, once the revolution in Tunisia
started, I decided to add a political storyline to it, and that
really saved the film. The revolution brought this film to life and
moved it forward as it had become the most popular topic. Once that
happened I had to tweak the script and change the characters' focus
so that they are caught up in the fighting, and as such the title
of the film changed as well.
Can you tell us a little more about the role of the
blind accordionist, what he symbolised and why you chose to
personally take on that role?
When the revolution had just started, I was hurt and beat up. I
was then sent death threats, and there were musicians who went to
sing songs about me being the 'enemy of Islam'. But I'm not. I
don't have a problem with Islam, but I do have a problem with
people who abuse it. So I added the role of the accordionist,
because I wanted a musician adding an element of song to represent
the revolution. In the film, because of the songs he sings, the
accordionist is attacked.
The reason I decided to take on that role myself was because I
wanted to spite all those people sending me death threats, all
those people singing about me and calling me the enemy of Islam. It
was a form of retort to all those people who are against me, and it
created quite a stir - especially on social media.
When I tried to sue, the judge told me that Facebook is not
substantial evidence they can use to prosecute people or move the
As for making him blind, I honestly don't know. It wasn't meant
to symbolize anything in specific, but I liked the idea of having a
blind musician on the streets of Tunis. In fact, one of the many
scenes that were cut out in the making of the film, he says one of
my favourite lines: "What I see, no one else can see."
How do you think the film will be received? Do you worry
that some people might take it as an attack on their person - men
To be honest, I find that dramatic films, or films in general,
should be made with no expectations. I don't know how this film
will be received, and I would rather not think about it. If I were
to sit there and try to think about what or how people will react,
I would never get anything made! My way of doing things is by
saying everything I want to say, doing everything I want to do, but
cleverly. I get my message across without breaking any rules or
laws, so no one can hold it against me. That's my style, and it
tends to offend people, or at least bring out strong reactions in
My goal with this film is to try and showcase that the wearing
of the veil, the practice of Islam, and every other choice is one
that is personal. Respect personal choices, respect other cultures,
respect people. Respect is key.
How has the Tunisian revolution changed you, and how has
it affected your perspective with regards to making
I never make a film without including current world situations.
The film, initially, had absolutely nothing to do with the
revolution, but once the events took place, I quickly changed the
script to include it, because I knew it was important. It was
I hope I can say this in a way that you would understand, but
personally, I have been revolting for over 30 years. I was jailed
for five years due to my political activities, so to me, this
revolution hasn't changed anything in me. The only thing that has
changed is that now, people have finally caught up with me. The
younger generation especially, has finally caught up to me as I was
already there, far, far ahead of everyone.
For the first time, the people of Tunisia say what they want
without fear. They are not afraid anymore, but that doesn't mean
there is no danger from some political parties who still try to
suffocate the people.
However, I also think the people of Tunisia are experiencing an
"overdose" of freedom, which is completely normal in a situation
like this. They have so much freedom now that they don't know where
to draw the line, how to respect each other and create boundaries.
This involves even little things like respecting traffic rules! But
this is just a phase, and it will pass with time, I'm sure.
How do you choose the topics of your films, and why do
they always tend to lean on the side of controversy?
When someone reaches a certain age in life, and experiences so
much in their life, things start to come naturally to you. The
films I make, I don't think about.
I want to achieve independence, not only politically, but
independence of thought, independence of religion, independence of
culture. In my selection of films, I always search for important
topics. Topics that people are afraid to discuss or bring to light.
Topics that you wouldn't concern yourself with on a day-to-day
basis, but that are integral to our society, such as prostitution,
young girls being taken and made to work in people's homes,
terrorism, torture, tyranny, abuse, imprisonment, religion and so
I want to open the door for those issues to come out. I want to
start this revolution, not because I want to offend anyone or make
people angry, but because this is the only solution. For progress
in our society, this has to happen. I'm the kind of man who always
stands with the underdogs, the tortured, the wronged and the
oppressed. And so in my films, I always take their perspective and
make sure their voices are heard.
Nouri, do you hope for change? How do you go about
This is a very small contribution on a much larger scale. Of
course I hope for change, but let's not give cinema more credit
than it deserves, especially in the Arab world.
What we build with our films, other Arabic contributions destroy
due to them following all the political and social constraints by
governments. If I were to make a film that would actually make a
change, I would not be able to show it anywhere in the Arab
I try, but in the end there's not much we can do with just
making films. You can only try.
world premieres at Emirates Palace on
Monday 15 October at 9:30 pm and at VOX cinemas on Thursday 18
October at 2:00 pm.