Film Review: “Hedi” Wins Golden Bear, Berlin Int’l Film Festival

(Photo by Cirina Catania)

Directed by Mohamed Ben Attia
Produced by Dora Bouchoucha

Majd Mastoura, Hedi
Rym Ben Messaoud, Rim
Sabah Bouzouita, Baya
Omnia Ben Ghali, Khedija
Hakim Boumessaoudi, Ahmed
Area Ben Small, Faten

Tunisia, Belgium, France, Qatar, United Arab Emirates
Filmed in Cinemascope, 88 minutes

NOTE: Since this review was written, the Berlinale awarded Attia with a Silver Bear for “Best First Feature,” and Majd Mastoura was feted with “Best Actor.”

“Inhebbek Hedi” directed by Mohammed Ben Attia and filmed in beautiful Cinemascope quietly induces us, lulls us into the story until we are fully immersed and mesmerized. It is a highlight of the 2016 Berlinale main competition lineup.

Majd Mastoura plays Hedi in "Inhebbek Hedi" (Photo by Cirina Catania)
Majd Mastoura plays Hedi in “Inhebbek Hedi” (Photo by Cirina Catania)

Hedi (played masterfully by the understated, simmering Majd Mastoura) is a sad sack Mama’s Boy, wandering through his Tunisian post-revolution life in slow motion. He has a boring job and boring co-workers. His fiancé Khedija (Omnia Ben Ghali) is beautiful but boring. His home is boring as is the food, the endless Skype calls from his escapist brother living in Paris and even Hedi’s clothes and shoes are boringly annoying.

The first forty minutes of this well-crafted and ultimately fine film are as quiet as his life. Rightfully so. The name Hedi means calm, serene and in this case it is, as the filmmakers put it, “the calm before the storm.” This is not just a universal love story, it is the story of Tunisian culture challenged by the ever-changing world. How do these characters react? How do they choose to live? And what will this do to the cultural structure of their society?

Mama Baya (Sabah Bouzouita) controls everything, including Hedi’s choice of wife. Lovely to most, but not compelling to him, she is also dominated by her family. He has aspirations, hidden, but hot and it is clear that, despite her physical beauty and supposed wealth, she has no thoughts of a future except to say she wants him and children. He will never accept her and is not attracted to her because of that.

Heidi is lonely. His brother Ahmed (Hakim Boumessaoudi) lives in Paris and Mama thinks he will one day return, although we know that will never happen. A French wife will never be accepted and his children remain tethered by occasional forays onto a mutually hypnotic internet. Love has made him a willing captive to the new country. Although, guilt keeps him from admitting the truth and keeps his true desires at bay. Endless Skype calls where he reinforces his mother’s myth about their future do not go unnoticed by Hedi, who finds the whole thing aggravating.

The family, under the constant direction of their mother, is buried in details about the upcoming wedding. Hedi wants nothing to do with it and neither does his boss at Peugot, who is more concerned that his sales force is not performing. He refuses to give Hedi any time off for the wedding or honeymoon and reassigns him to another territory.

Hedi (Majd Mastoury) falls in love with Rim (Rym Ben Messaoud) in "Hedi"
Hedi (Majd Mastoury) falls in love with Rim (Rym Ben Messaoud) in “Hedi”

Heidi lands in Mahdia, a beachside town, where he makes a few futile efforts to close some sales, but hasn’t the slightest willingness to find success. One afternoon, playing hooky, he wanders onto the beach where he meets an energetic, self-possessed and intriguing woman, Rim (Rym Ben Messaoud), who is working as an activity coordinator for the resort. He is smitten and begins talking with her openly and enthusiastically. She introduces him to feelings he didn’t know he had and they soon tumble into a lustful abyss.

Their affair changes him forever, but will he make the right decision? Will he continue to live for others, or will he choose happiness. Will he marry the woman for whom he is intended or will he escape to a new world with his true love?

Writer/Director Mohamed Ben Attia is credited with a number of short films beginning in 2002 (all of which were produced by Dora Bouchoucha). Hedi is Attia’s first full-length feature. He says he conceived it as a “love at first sight” story paying homage to the youth of Tunisia five years after the revolution during the “Arab spring”.

Hedi is a film about love, loss, family relationships, courage or lack of it. Surprisingly engaging, the acting by Majd Matsoura is quietly convincing, his co-star, Rym Ben Messaoud is enticing as Rim and the film is well directed by Attia. Look for it in theaters worldwide.

For highlights of the press conference for “Hedi”, click here:

Director: Mohamed Ben Attia
Starring: Majd Mastoura (Hedi), Rym Ben Messaoud (Rim), Sabah Bouzouita (Baya), Hakin Boumessaoudi (Ahmed), Omnia Ben Ghali (Khedija), Arwa Ben Smail (Faten)

Director, Mohamed Ben Attia
Writer, Mohamed Ben Attia
DOP, Frederic Noirhomme
Editors, Azza Chaabouni, Ghalya Lacroix, Hafedh Laaridhi
Music, Omar Aloulou
Sound design, Jean-Sebastien Barbe
Sound, Faouzi Thabet
Set Design, Mohamed Denguezil
Costume design, Nedra Gribaa
Makeup, Fatma Jazira
Assistant director, Caroline Tambour
Producer, Dora Bouchoucha Fourth
Executive producers, Lina Chaabane Menzli, Delphine Tomson
Co-Producers, Jean Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Nadim Chelkhrouha
Production Company, Nomadis Images
Co-Production Companies, Les Films du Fleuve, Tanit Films
Associate Producers, Imed Marzouk, Philippe Logie
World Sales, Luxbox