Ashkal, the Tunis survey **
by Youssef Chebbi
Tunisian film, 1 h 31
In an unfinished building in the suburbs of Tunis, a man set himself on fire. Next to his body, the police find his neatly folded clothes. Two police officers are responsible for carrying out the investigation in a difficult context for the police, whose practices under the Ben Ali regime are now in question. The incident is all the more disturbing as it is quickly followed by a whole series of spontaneous immolations in which a mysterious character seems to be involved.
A plot that tips over into the fantastic
Against a backdrop of disillusionment with the Tunisian revolution, this film takes up all the codes of neo-polar, with its extremely polished staging, its sticky atmosphere, its political context and its duo of investigators with opposite profiles – a man and a woman of two different generations. We thus irresistibly think of the duet of La isla minima, a film by Alberto Rodriguez released in 2014 taking place in post-Franco Spain. As in the latter, located in Andalusia, the filmmaker Youssef Chebbi makes the topography of the place the central element of his film.
This is a new district of Tunis, a kind of new town originally intended for the nomenklatura of the regime, called “the gardens of Carthage”, and whose construction was interrupted by events. The camera wanders for a long time in the middle of the vacant lots and the carcasses of buildings in a series of shots with neat geometry, evocative of the ghosts that still hover over the country. Just like the fire that leads back to the symbolic event of the outbreak of the revolution. But when the plot ends up tipping over into the fantastic, the whole film then takes on a metaphorical dimension which deprives it of a real outcome.