Because of her big features and wild hair, Farah (Baya Medhaffer), an 18 year old Tunisian, is the kind of woman who sticks out even when she’s far away. Farah has a personality to match those looks. So naturally, she joins a band that wants to transition from doing covers to performing rock music with a political message. Farah also has a volatile affair with one of her bandmates, Borhene (Montassar Ayari). It’s an affair she hides from her band as well as her mother, Hayet (Ghalia Benali). She can’t keep hiding these aspects of her life, especially her politics, as a camera captures a performance that gets a few people of her life in trouble. After all, the Tunisia she lives in is during 2010, during Ben Ali’s dictatorship.
In 2010, Tunisia’s pre-revolution government imprisoned dissidents. In depicting that world, Leyla Bouzid’s As I Open My Eyes uses the tropes that viewers see in coming of age films. However, there’s enough misdirection here even in a genre where there are fewer plot points to choose from. It can tell Farah’s story like a Peanuts-y world, one concentrating of the band,. But one of the main relationships here is the one between Farah and Hayet, who wants her to quit musicology and become a doctor, the first in her family. Both the band scenes and the domestic scenes take place in doors. The art direction here shows enough individuality and room within these spaces.
However, these scenes keep in mind that there’s an outside world where Farah prefers to be. In other words, Farah wants to be free at a place and time when freedom of speech doesn’t exist. This piece focuses on the interior versus the exterior so much. And sure, there are scenes which have the characters exist within the latter but in strange circumstances. Farah’s band get their few gigs, one of them an a beach bar, where people prefer to hear party songs. The crowd embrace their new material except for the one time when Farah does an impromptu spoken word piece which the owners don’t like. This is also where the camera comes in. One things about the band in general though is how the film doesn’t really connect their real lives and their online lives.
And yes, that previous point is a nitpick. This piece also hints at As I Open My Eyes’ attempts at misdirection. The misdirection make me ambivalent despite those attempts being successful. Films in the Islamic world about a headstrong woman, which have similar plot points. And it’s good to see this film mix those points up to show the bad thing happening to whom and when. The execution of the final bad thing isn’t perfect, because it involves Hayet taking Farah to her father. And she takes her eyes of Farah which is something you don’t do with a headstrong woman. Nonetheless, this film still has a few things up its sleeve. And it has characters that compel viewers to discover what’s within.
As I Open My Eyes comes soon to OVID.