Tradition butts up against progress in Leyla Bouzid’s debut, a musically charged French-Tunisian film that follows a young woman in a band as she navigates familial and cultural strictures on the eve of the Jasmine Revolution.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2016
“A headstrong singer in an underground band pushes back against the strictures in her life in As I Open My Eyes, Leyla Bouzid’s impressive first feature. Set in Tunisia the summer before that country’s Jasmine Revolution, the drama follows 18-year-old Farah (Baya Medhaffer) as she chafes at her mother’s attempts to control her curfew, her academic future and the time she spends with her group. Farah lives for secret moments with her boyfriend, Borhène (Montassar Ayari), and their forays into the nightlife of Tunis… Bouzid’s depiction of Farah’s awakening and her mom’s mounting anxiety feels deeply rooted in female experience under a repressive regime.
Newcomer Medhaffer sparkles as Farah, who is radiant onstage and at one point complains, ‘I’m sick of always having to be careful.’ Simultaneously intelligent, rebellious and naive, she’s articulate in the face of oppression without full awareness that the stakes are high – and that government-sanctioned cultural policing is real. Part mother-daughter relationship drama and part political statement, As I Open My Eyes offers a nuanced record of the simmering unrest that propelled Tunisians to overthrow their corrupt government and spark the Arab Spring.” — Erin Klenow, San Francisco International Film Festival
“Nearly five years later, fictional reenactments of the events leading to the Arab Spring have started to appear – and Leyla Bouzid’s feature-length debut As I Open My Eyes is by far the best. Like so many of the finest portraits of real life political events, the director has cleverly kept the story small, while hinting at a much bigger picture.” — Kaleem Aftab, Indiewire