Un divan à Tunis [Arab Blues] (2019)

Un divan à Tunis
Director: Manele Labidi
Writer: Maud Ameline, Manele Labidi
Cast: Golshifteh Farahani, Majd Mastoura, Aïsha Ben Miled, Feryel Chammari, Hichem Yacoubi, Najoua Zouhair, Jamel Sassi, Ramla Ayari, Moncef Ajengui
Seen on: 13.8.2020

Content Note: transmisia

Plot:
Selma (Golshifteh Farahani) decided to move back to Tunis from Paris – much to the incomprehension of most people. Her cousin Olfa (Aïsha Ben Miled) doesn’t understand why she would leave the freedom Paris promises and the rest of Tunis doesn’t understand why she would want to open her practice as a psychotherapist in Tunis. But people flock to her office. She also draws the attention of police officer Naim (Majd Mastoura) who starts harrassing her about a proper licence for her work.

Un divan à Tunis has some nice moments and Farahani is fantastic, but the film relies a little too much on cheap jokes – one of which is pretty transmisic – to actually work.

The film poster showing Selma (Goshifteh Farahani) sitting on the roof floor in front of a couch, next to a picture of Sigmund Freud.

I don’t know Labidi’s background, nor Ameline’s but the film seems written by somebody who has never been in therapy, let alone knows what it means to work as one. On the one hand, Selma’s cases are the most shallow stuff you can possibly think of – mother issues get introduced with “I don’t even know why I’m talking about my mother right now”; one patient is paranoid in an equally cartoonish way (nevermind that a person that paranoid would probably never make it to therapy); and one patient is struggling with their sexual orientation and their gender identity (not that the film really bothers to separate the two) and is treated just as a joke – until things turn dramatic for a while. The film should have afforded its patients more dignity than that.

And it probably didn’t want to portray Selma as incompetent, but that’s very much what it looked like to me. Not even as a psychoanalyst do you start a therapy by not talking and not explaining how things work, for example. And it was frankly negligent to start her practice without checking about licenses because it meant that she has to drop her clients quite suddenly. And that’s an absolute no-go.

Selma (Goshifteh Farahani) at a traffic stop with police officer Naim (Majd Mastoura).

But of course, the film isn’t so much a film about therapy, but about Selma’s problems adjusting to life in a country she had left when she was a child, making her feel like she belonged neither here nor there. If they had not chosen therapy as a vehicle for their story (or made more of it), I am pretty sure I would have enjoyed the film.

Farahani is perfect and the film’s biggest asset. I also liked the way they resolved the whole plot with Naim that starts with all the romantic tropes and then calls out his harrassing behavior for what it is. And there were some jokes that did work. It just wasn’t enough to keep the film together, unfortunately.

Selma (Goshifteh Farahani) tries to get her license at the ministry.

Summarizing: I had hoped for more.

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