Aala Kaf Ifrit [Beauty and the Dogs] (2017)

Aala Kaf Ifrit
Director: Kaouther Ben Hania
Writer: Kaouther Ben Hania
Based on: Meriem Ben Mohamed and Ava Djamshidi’s book Coupable d’avoir été violée
Cast: Mariam Al Ferjani, Ghanem Zrelli, Noomen Hamda, Mohamed Akkari, Chedly Arfaoui, Anissa Daoud, Mourad Gharsalli
Seen on: 27.11.2022

Content Note: rape, rape culture

Plot:
Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani) just wants to have a nice night out. She organized a party that’s going well. She meets a cute guy, Youssef (Ghanem Zrelli). They head out for a walk together. But a group of police men stop them and brutally rape Mariam. And that’s just the beginning for the nightmare that night as she and Youssef desperately try to get help.

Beauty and the Dogs is a harrowing film, emotionally harsh and unfortunately realistic. Carried by a fantastic performance by Al Ferjani, the film carries us through the kafkaesque obstacle course a rape victim has to face, especially when her abusers are in a position of power.

The film poster showing Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani) at the party, looking over her shoulder. The image is blurry.

Beauty and the Dogs is certainly a film that should be approached with caution, especially if you yourself are a rape survivor. It’s the kind of film that should be watched with chocolate and safety blankets because Ben Hania really doesn’t go easy on us as she forces us along with Mariam. She does not show the rape itself, but compared with what comes after, the rape almost seems like the least of it. Even the people who generally sympathize with Mariam are often less than helpful.

Ben Hania makes it a point that this is not a question of “a few bad apples”. The way Mariam is treated is because of an entire system stacked against the victims at every turn. A system that makes it dangerous to help them. A system that doesn’t need everybody to be unfeeling – it just doesn’t give people many options to act and makes helping a risking endeavor.

Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani) and Youssef (Ghanem Zrelli) in a cab.

Through it all, Al Ferjani is gripping. She captures both Mariam’s traumatized helplessness and her strength. She is in an impossible situation but she is determined to make it out with her head held high. Even when that isn’t possible, she always finds a way back to herself. To make vulnerability and strenght go hand in hand like that and have both feel utterly real – it’s an awe-inspiring thing to watch.

Beauty and the Dogs is set in Tunisia, which may make it easy for a Western audience to push the horrors Mariam faces away from them, as if the appalling treatment of rape victims was not a problem for us. Let me tell you: it is. And the same story could take place in Austria (where I live) or pretty much anywhere else. That makes it even more chilling.

Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani) in front of a police station.

Summarizing: see it but take care of yourself when you do.

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