The Tunisians seem to be thriving after the Arab Spring. Tunisia is the only country where the people tried to overthrow the dictatorship in the countries through uprisings in 2011. Political unrest continues, however, and Tunisia is said to be the country where most of the youth go to an IS training camp at the same time. You wonder what got into such a young person. Mohamed Ben Attia’s “Weldi” does not answer that.
Sami is nineteen years old. As an only child, he is pampered by his parents, who watch every step he takes with suspicion. Sami is just about to graduate and is thinking about training as a graphic designer. However, he has a lot of migraine, his parents think it is stress because of the many studies, but Sami himself indicates that he is depressed. Father Riadh works as a crane operator and his retirement is nearing. Mother Nazli regularly works out of town and then stays away for a few days. Almost every dime that comes in is used for Sami, for his medical expenses, for his tutoring… But does Sami want all that attention?
With “Weldi”, Mohamed Ben Attia shows Sami’s parents’ side. When Sami disappears one day and has gone to Syria to join IS, we see the pain and despair of these two poor, well-meaning people. Riadh and Nazli feel the same emotion, but react differently. While Riadh wants to do everything in his power to bring his son back, Nazli seems to be more resigned, though she is consumed with grief at the loss of her apple of the eye.
On the one hand, that focus on Sami’s parents is frustrating. We totally understand their feelings because it makes sense that they didn’t see this coming. Sami never showed his plans. How would you as a parent react if your child makes such a radical decision, from which there is no way back? “Weldi” therefore seems a somewhat redundant film, because the characters react exactly as you expect.
On the other hand, the filmmaker’s choice is entirely defensible. In the recent “Le jeune Ahmed” by the Dardenne brothers (who co-produce the title role of “Weldi”) we saw the point of view of a youngster who radicalized, but you still didn’t understand the character. Like Sami’s parents, in “Weldi” you are also completely in the dark for the motives of their son. So their desperation is understandable (but not surprising, as said) and it is that compassion that makes this film beat “Le jeune Ahmed”.
“Weldi” says something between the lines about the current society in Tunisia (for example, when Riadh bribes a police officer because he has no insurance certificate with him), but that is too fragmentary to really make a statement. You don’t have to, of course. What “Weldi” mainly shows is that far from all the stories surrounding the slide into jihadism have been told.