Thu. Oct 29th, 2020

Toronto Review: ‘Noura’s Dream’

Hinde Boujemaa’s debut feature is an interesting exploration of women’s rights in modern-day Tunisia

Making her first feature film after several shorts, Hinde Boujemaa’s NOURA’S DREAM is an interesting, if unpolished, exploration of women’s rights to love and live with the men they choose in modern-day Tunisia that, despite having made strides in empowering women unlike most other Middle Eastern countries, still has some way to go in that department.

Opting for an intimate storytelling style, the film asks big questions and funnels them through a simple story that turns melodramatic at times and doesn’t have the dramatic chops of some similarly themed films from Tunisia or the region but still remains an intriguing enough feature that should find some nice audience following back at home and could have a solid festival run particularly in the Middle East and Asia. Audiences in such regions may come to fully appreciate the film’s messages, particularly because of legal obstacles that still prevent women from making autonomous life choices.

Noura (Hind Sabri) is a lower class laundry worker whose abusive and criminal husband (Lofti Abdelli who delivers the film’s best performance) is sent to jail. That presents an opportunity for Noura to file for divorce and finally be with the man of her choice: Lassaad (Hakim Boumassoudi). At first, things seem to be shaping up quite well for Noura and it’s only four days until her divorce case will be processed. But when her husband unexpectedly is released early, her world turns upside down. Not only is her divorce case in jeopardy, she has to conceal her love story with Lassaad to avoid a five-year sentence in prison if their affection is exposed.

Boujemaa creates a compelling story that presents Noura’s societal and internal struggles quite well, but the film suffers from a melodramatic flair that takes away from what could have been a more graceful approach to reflect on Noura’s agony. The film needed more time to breath and the script could have used quieter, more reflective moments to truly connect with a women torn between two men and two choices. Hind Sabri has delivered better performances and Boujemaa doesn’t seem to have got the best performance out of her. Nevertheless, Sabri does a good job in conveying Noura’s fear and despair especially as legal systems had her caught in quite a limbo.

While familiar, NOURA’S DREAM does include some fresh scenes particularly when Noura’s husband discovers she might have had an affair with another man while he was behind bars. What follows is certainly a less conventional and more intriguing presentation of a confrontation with a ruthless man and a women on fire. If only the screenplay had focused on this intriguing exchange instead of other narrative points and repetitive scenes that don’t quite create a coherent emotional engagement.

The film’s technical credits, particularly the cinematography, reinforces its quiet intimacy and the soundtrack is sparsely used to reflect Noura’s harsh realities. The editing, somewhat rough around the edges, needed to put the story in better focus in some places.

Verdict: Flawed but well-made, NOURA’S DREAM is an intriguing first feature from a new voice in Tunisian cinema.

Grade: B

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