Gilded Serpent presents...
review by Bobbie Giarratana
Raja Amari’s new film, released this week throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, follows a Tunisian woman’s self-discovery and fulfillment through belly dancing. It also looks at friendships that develop with those considered “on the fringe” of society.
Lilia, the film’s main character, is introduced as the widowed mother of a teenage girl living in modern-day Tunis. Lilia is apparently all the things a respectable woman should be: shy, polite, and obedient to traditional expectations. She spends her days obsessively cleaning her apartment with occasional breaks to let her hair down to dance in front of the mirror. Outwardly she is the model housewife, but privately, flirting with her reflection, she is a passionate sexual woman. Meanwhile, her daughter, Salma is alternatively at school, at dance class, or sleeping with her undisclosed boyfriend.
When Lilia develops a suspicion that her daughter has a boyfriend she begins to spy. She discovers that not only does the boyfriend exist, but that he is the drummer in a house band at the local cabaret! Curious, she enters the nightclub and discovers a world she has never known. This is the world of scantily clad women dancing in public for men who whistle and cheer: an environment where social conventions are blurred by thick cigarette smoke and loud music.
Director Raja Amira is a dancer herself; she trained for many years at the “Conservatoire de Tunis” and clearly knows what a belly dance fan wants to see in a movie. The cabaret dressing room scenes, in particular, are filled with all the sparkling sequined costumes and heavily made up performers fans might hope for.
Cut: Lilia is talked into dancing by her new friend, Folla, a dancer in the nightclub. At first desperately shy, Lilia warms up to the idea over the next few nights. Soon, she is dancing, ecstatic, shaking it for the boys, in full regalia and wrapping herself around “The Pole” on stage. Her friendships with the club patrons and employees teach her that there is joy and integrity in dance.
Recognizing a new, more liberal way of life, Lilia has sexual issues to explore and her daughter’s boyfriend becomes the subject of a complicated, but sweet mother-daughter relationship. It is here where the film abandons the dance theme to touch on the subject of family ties, devotion, trust, and security. These topics are investigated through domestic scenes of sex and social visits. There are also quiet and especially sweet moments involving mother and daughter in the most intimate setting: the bedroom. With very little dialogue, the actors manage to demonstrate profound sympathy and trust between mother and daughter, despite suspicion and betrayal.
The characters struggle with public vs. private life through a delicate balance of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the director has effectively demonstrated one family’s solution avoiding a complete breakdown of trust and respect. Despite her secret life, Lilia maintains her dignity as well as her devotion to her daughter. She is the character with the most to lose if her secrets are revealed and, in the end, she triumphs.
avaiable at the producers website including the movie trailer in Quicktime,
an interview with the director and links to New York Belly dance web