Beauty and the Dogs Film Review

Beauty and the Dogs Film Review
Given the title and subject matter of "Beauty and the Dogs", you might expect a one-sided polemic against masculinity from writer-director Kaouther Ben Hania. Not the case, though. Ben Hania situates the true-life case of a University student raped by two policemen in the larger context of Tunisia's history of political repression. Both men and women, hardened by a carapace of indifference, disregard the victim's distress. Ben Hania demonstrates that, when ruled by an authoritarian regime, self-preservation becomes the dominant principle in the lives of the populace.

"Beauty and the Dogs" depicts one horrific evening in the life of Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani), a college student in Tunis. One moment she is dancing at a student party, the next she is running for her life. Ben Hania structures the film as a series of nine long takes. The rape (which Ben Hania astutely chooses not to portray) happens in between the first two chapters. In the aftermath, Mariam is taken to a private clinic by a sympathetic suitor, Youssef (Ghanem Zrelli). They are treated with complete apathy by the staff, who discuss the acquisition of a new coffee machine while a disoriented Mariam looks on.

The nightmare continues as Mariam is caught in a Catch-22 situation; the police are the culprits but she must report the crime to the police in order to obtain justice. Mariam faces unrelenting psychological pressure from both the cops, who want her to drop the complaint, and Youssef, a political activist who insists that she fight for her rights. Alternately threatened and cajoled, Mariam prevails. She refuses to acquiesce to authority and tradition.

Technology is viewed as a neutral force in "Beauty and the Dogs". Youssef has cell phone video of the corrupt officers asking for a pay-off. When he tells Mariam that he will post the evidence on Facebook, she asks if he would do the same with video of her assault. In fact, the assailants have filmed their attack on Mariam and threaten to send it to her father. The moral value of tech is governed by the individual who uses it. Investigative journalists have shown that Facebook was used by both democratic and despotic actors during the Arab Spring. Ben Hania's film can be viewed as a hopeful metaphor for that political movement. Mariam's journey begins in darkness, but ends with the dawn.

"Beauty and the Dogs" was released in 2017. The film is in Arabic and French with English subtitles. "Beauty and the Dogs" is included with Amazon Prime and also available on DVD. I watched the film at my own expense. Review posted on 11/10/2018.

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