MAN OF ASHES / Tunisia 1986 (4 STARS)
14 December 2003: It isn't everyday that one comes across a film from Tunisia, but one that so deftly treats a sensitive subject and so adroitly displays all the element of subtle film-making is a greater rarety. Man of Ashes is indeed a brazen effort for Nouri Bouzid, who needs to be applauded for so bravely confronting a sensitive subject within an Islamic society, while proudly presenting to the world intricate and ceremonious details about his culture.
• Mise-en-scene: I enjoyed the ceremonious and culturally exquisite staging of the wedding. I found several parallels that could be drawn between Tunisian culture and others that I am familiar with, and it was gratifying for me to note the bonds that unify us across culture and geography.
• I would have liked to see more of a progression in the relationship between father and son, which very quickly degenerated into as shouting match and then stayed. It would have been interesting to explore the father's motivations and understand his shouting within that context.
• I had mixed feelings about the figure behavior of the two leads because of their excesses in both directions. I personally thought that the protagonist over-did the withdrawal through trauma and his friend was way over the top with his expression of grief. But then these reactions are culture specific and who can pass judgment on the various ways in which people are prone to behaving in adverse circumstances.
• I also thought that the friend's not going all the way and exploring his homosexual side was a missed opportunity.
• The cinematography was surprisingly polished and subtle, and showed an acute sensibility both in the use of camera lenses which were used with great panache to alternate between objective narration and psychologically subjective exploration through tight close-ups, and in the choice of color palette which was diffused and earthy, yet rich with the texture and hues of Tunisian culture.