Sketchy Premise: Our Review of ‘Arab Blues’

Sketchy Premise: Our Review of ‘Arab Blues’

Arab Blues is a metaphor, a film representing two nations, and about a woman who does not want to buy a truck but buys one anyway. That woman is Selma (Golshifteh Farahani), and she buys that truck to navigate unis. She is culturally French, but the truck screams “You’re a Tunisian again!”

Arab Blues, then, shows another reason for Selma to stick out. She is a psychotherapist, one of a dozen in Paris, so in returning to Tunisia she assumes that she is the only psychotherapist in town. She assumed correctly but that does not mean that she is safe to practice there.

This film is, by the way, a comedy, which means that it will milk the truck for as many jokes as they can get from it. It also means that Selma has a meet cute with the cop. He’s Naim (Majd Mastoura), and he to tries to shut her illegal practice down. And it’s illegal because she forgets to get a permit.

Selma is a better neighbor than she is a psychotherapist. All she does is let her patients talk, like a queer baker (Hichem Yacoubi). But she also tells, for example, a possibly suicidal imam, Fares (Jamel Sassi) that she is there if he needs anything. In doing so, she acts and looks like a second-generation immigrant in a country where looks can deceive.

But an interesting character like Selma cannot hide how sketchy this premise is. Namely, that she is inserting herself in a country that might not need her help after all. And just because the film is aware of this does not make that insertion less awkward.

The film shows Tunisian culture, like most non-Western cultures, as inherently backward with no way of solving its own problems. It also makes assumptions about Selma, a woman of color who looks at Freudian psychotherapy as the solution for every problem.

Speaking of solutions, this film does deserve some credit for showing that moving to Western countries is not a solution. Selma is proof of that, warning other characters when they make desperate attempts to leave Tunis. But a lot of the film shows that it’s not on her side when it comes to this matter.

Farahani’s usually great even in lesser films. This is also not her first time in a comedy, and there are some flashes of that she shows both Salma’s stoic and vulnerable sides. But she lets the other actors overpower her. Also, casting Farahani to play an Arab is going to make at least one person angry.

Comedies like this always have their dramatic moments, and it feels like the latter moments are better than the former. Comedy dramas make for the most basic genre mashup and there are so many ways that this could have gone right.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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