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Satin Rouge

Satin Rouge(Roter Satin)
Tunisia/France 2oo2
Director: Raja Amari

Lilias Victory

Another motion picture at the far edge of mainstream, shot by the Tunesian director and graduate of the Paris Film Academy FEMIS, Raja Amari, is running at some cinemas since mid-May 2002. The story of a woman trying to find her way between tradition and emancipation has received some comments full of cultural chauvinism by local film critics. Ever listening for the voice of progress, the newspaper taz expounds on how instrumental "that oriental belly-dance, that wriggling, shaking, twitching and swaying, the stylized sexual act, the intercourse with space" is to the liberation of Tunesian women. Did the author, S. Weidner, watch a porn film? If Ms. Lenssen of the Zeit is to be believed, the movie tells about how "entering a forbidden world enables the heroine, Lilia, to discover her own sensuality", in a way that is "completely natural, even familiar to European eyes and ears". Well, well. Somehow I can't help thinking that someone is looking down here from high above (Germany) to low down (Tunesia).

Lilia (Hiyam Abbas), a widow, lives with her daughter Salma (Hend El Fahem). Lilia is a housewife. She seems to have resigned herself to her life as a widow grieving for her husband and talking to his picture. Her only concern is for Salma, who sometimes stays out late or sleeps at a friend's after a party. Lilia wants Salma to have a proper education.

One day she goes looking for her daughter to see how Salma spends her leisure time. Her neighbour (Faouzia Badr) has scared her into thinking that Salma might stray from the path of virtue if she doesn't look out for her. But instead of finding Salma she suddenly finds herself at the door of the nightclub "Satin Rouge". She cautiously enters the establishment, from which music issues, and suddenly finds herself standing between clapping, elated men, musicians and belly-dancers. This is too much for her and she passes out. The worried belly-dancers lay her on a couch and wait for Lilia to regain consciousness.

This way Lilia meets the slightly older belly-dancer Folla (Monia Hichri), a particularly friendly and corteous woman Lilia makes friends with. Lilia is
Hiam Abbass as Lilia (middle) and Monia Hichri as Folla (right)
torn between her resentment against the public display of women and men at the "Satin Rouge" and her fascination with the dance, the music, the magic and seduction emanating from the nightclub's atmosphere.

More and more often she secretly returns to the nightclub while Salma is sleeping. One evening while Folla is on stage Lilia puts on one of Folla’s belly-dance costumes and dances in front of the mirror. After her performance Folla watches Lilia, then takes her hand and goes back on stage with the reluctant Lilia. The men at the “Satin Rouge” are crazy about the “new girl”. But the owner of the club (Abou Moez Fazaa) wants Lilia to have a proper belly-dance training. Folla takes charge of this and from now on Lilia performs at the “Satin Rouge” - in secret, without her daughter, neighbours and relatives knowing anything about it.

In the meantime Salma has fallen in love with a musician named Chokri (Maher Kamoun), who plays at the nightclub, and she secretly spends her spare time with him. But Chokri is undecided. Salma is young and dependendt on her mother. Without knowing that Lilia is Salma’s mother he falls in love with Lilia and sleeps with her. Salma wants to finally introduce Chokri to her mother, to put an end to the secrecy. So one day she turns up at Lilia’s with Chokri ...

Raja Amari’s film is set in the bright world of daylight with the strict rules of Tunesian society as well as the dark world of night, the furtiveness, the secret desires and wishes Lilia cannot act out by day and only admits to herself by night. Her daughter’s life is similar. She craves love and affection but has to hide them from her mother. Salma is the one who breaks the rules in front of her mother, who stands by her love for Chokri and admits this openly without knowing that Chokri has got a secret as well. He represents the world of men - sex-hungry men who don’t care about being faithful to a woman, but want to own them all. Lilia, on the other hand, discovers herself as a human being. Belly-dancing is only the outward means of discovering herself as a woman, as a whole person, and to live according to this - at least by night.

The other belly-dancers are dependent on the world of men: The patron who owns the nightclub and the men who watch them and slip them some money if they are good, or none if they aren't. Folla is aware of this; she knows that she will soon have to go, will be fired because the patron wants to hire younger dancers. That’s the way life is, Folla says.

Director Raja Amari
Raja Amari tells these people’s story primarily through images, facial expressions and gestures. If words are spoken, the usual rules apply - for example the rules for widows, who do not seem to have a body, a soul and emotions and are supposed to do just one thing: to mourn their deceased husbands. They are sexually neutral beings whose life is already very close to death. Lilia breaks these rules. Even if she hides from others that she works as a belly-dancer by night she does not feel guilty in the end; at best, she’s afraid of sanctions. She’s living her life. Dance and music, dancing with Folla and other women means discovering herself; the male spectators are not really important but more of a nuisance, an unavoidable side effect. And Lilia prevails over this men’s world. Her victory may seem small, but to her it is extraordinarily huge.

When Lilia watches from the window as Salma arrives with Chokri she realizes that she and her daughter have bedded the same man. Chokri is shocked and speechless. Lilia realizes the effects of the rules of the men’s world - and takes the helm from now on: She marries Salma to Chokri. At the wedding party she dances in front of the sitting bride and bridegroom, particularly in front of Chokri. This scene neither implies - as some movie reviews suggest - that Lilia continues to lay claim to Chokri (in this case she would act against her daughter, whom she loves and would never consciously harm) nor that she goes back to her chaste role as a widow. This wedding is her victory over the patriarchal men’s world in the form of Chokri. She’s got control over him: If he isn’t nice to her daughter, doesn’t love her and protect her, she will tell the secret that binds Chokri to Lilia. She beats the men’s world at its own game - rather born from coincidence than engineered according to plan. Lilia is free. By her dance at the wedding she shows Chokri that she’s true to her desires and herself as a whole person and that Chokri cannot take any influence on that. Lilia has learned that she is more than the role that was forced upon her and she can see to it that her daughter does not have to live under the thumb of men’s rules. Of course the film does not tell whether this works out well.

Raja Amari has succeeded in producing an impressive motion picture with colorful and vivid images and an excellent leading actor showing that some “European” answers to Arabian circumstances tell more about cultural hegemonic thinking than about the real problems of women in Arabian countries. “Satin Rouge” is no black-and-white picture, no empty phrase, no ideological know-it-all manner, no slogan-like answer. Chokri, the nightclub owner and the other men are not stilized into foe images. Raja Amari documents and demonstrates - especially the tight solidarity between women (similar in many respects to Pedro Almodóvar’s films). Unfortunately it is to be expected that this film at the edge of mainstream will not attract many viewers.

translated from German by Henriette Blaschke, with friendly permission of Ulrich Behrens @

More links on the subject:

More reviews about the film at: Internet Movie Database Movie Review Query Engine Rotten Tomatoes

hinzugefügt: February 23rd 2003
Autor: Ulrich Behrens
zugehöriger Link: Internet Movie Database (IMDb)
Hits: 15668
Sprache: deu


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