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Review: A son (2019)

Director: Mehdi Barsaoui | 92 minutes | | Actors: Sami Bouajila, Najla Ben Abdallah, Youssef Khemiri, Noomen Hamda, , , , Jihed Cherni, , , , , Jamila Camabrouki Mahdha, Amor Jdha , , Tarek Belkherchine, , , Assem Bettouhami, , ,

Father. Mother. Child. Love. The first scenes of ‘Un fils’ express such warmth and security that you immediately embrace the members of the in your heart. Aziz, the eleven-year-old son of Fares and Meriem, sits on his father’s lap in the car and is allowed to drive. Meriem looks fondly at her two husbands. Love. The fragment flows seamlessly into the next scene, in which intimacy is abruptly exchanged for bustle and conviviality.

In a park or forest, Fares and Meriem meet a group of friends. Jokes are tapped, alcohol is consumed and a toast is made to life. Fares proudly announces that they have something to celebrate: Meriem has been promoted and will start a new position as HR manager on Monday. The family decides to spend the weekend in Tataouine. Sounds of social unrest trickle through the car radio, this is Tunisia, just after the Jasmine Revolution in 2011. Although the couple is concerned about these oppressive messages, it does not seem to really affect them. It’s a far-from-my-bed show for them. This is literally portrayed by the hotel in which they spend the night, a luxurious stay where you actually seem to be in another world. The next day, in the car, Aziz asks his father to play his favorite song one more time. And then fate strikes. A stray bullet hits Aziz in the stomach.

‘Un fils’ then follows Fares and Meriem through their most desperate period of their lives: Aziz is in mortal danger, his liver is badly damaged and the hospital staff are doing what they can. The powerlessness of the parents is very convincing, it is not without reason that Sami Bouajila (Fares) won several prizes at film festivals. Najla Ben Abdallah also knows how to convey her inner struggle perfectly to the viewer. The earlier moment in the film – Fares reluctantly giving in to Aziz’s whining in the car – reflects exactly that contradiction that parents will recognize – you really do anything if your sick child gets better.

The screenplay is one of the strengths of this film; just when you think you know where the story is going, Mehdi Barsaoui comes up with a surprise. And even then the outcome remains unpredictable; you have no idea what these people will be like at the end of this movie. The story is a family drama and a political / social in one. This, in combination with the professional direction – unimaginable that this is Barsaoui’s first feature – ensures that ‘Un fils’ keeps you on of your seat continuously. Very nice.

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