There are four female figures in the film:
1. Noura’s mother, young and pretty, her son’s accomplice, lies in order to allow him to enter the hammam with her, and defends him when his father mistreats him.
2. Latifa, young and sexy, dressed in Western fashion, divorced and thus free, provocative, goes to secretly get her ‘shot’ (i.e. see her lover) every day!
3. Salouha, emotionally unhappy, close to insanity, is at the mercy of the fundamentalist chief, a victim of the intolerance against women.
4. Leila, in a welcoming corset, provides Noura with a practical substitute for the buxom nudities of the hammam.
Ferid Boughedir is a perfect representative of an artist and intellectual with close ties to Western culture. A regular at the Cinémathèque française, assistant to Alain Robbe-Grillet and Francisco Arrabal, film critic and author of a dissertation on African cinemas, he sees this Tunisian society in the midst of transformation from a modern Western point of view: ‘these were things I didn’t feel until I was in Paris’. 2 He both manages to escape censorship in Tunisia and knows how to satisfy an international audience.
The women in the hammam are extras, French beurettes (French women of North African origin) who accepted the roles because of a certain integrity of the film’s gaze, which did not shock them, and which also convinced Tunisian censorship.
The question of Islamic fundamentalism is present but there is neither a political analysis nor an answer to the problem of fundamentalism itself. The film is not anti-religious; it only stigmatises taboos that lead to hypocrisy and intolerance. It depicts an ‘Arab society where everything is taboo and where real life transpires via a succession of small transgressions’. 3 It gives the shoemaker, the ‘clown’ of the neighbourhood, the only one who secretly tells the truth because he is a poet, who is under the surveillance of a still moderate police, a gentle hint of freedom. Cohabitation is still possible between the generations and between political positions; conflicts will emerge later.
There is however a social truth in the depiction of the inhabitants’ behaviour which could usefully interest anthropologists and sociologists. Halfaouine represents a small microcosm that recalls the films of French filmmaker Marcel Pagnol, a theatre of the everyday where people exchange things, observe each other without hate (at the barber’s, at the market), where the women of the men who claim authority exchange saucy stories about them, and where everyday life is above all peaceful. The scene of the circumcision, even if it repulses Noura, is treated like a secular religious custom difficult to condemn.
Let us add that despite the film’s Mediterranean setting, a touristic vision, an exotic Tunisia of souks, is absent. The only concession to an architectural geography of the South can be found in the omnipresence of the terraces which have a double symbolic function, as they facilitate a ‘horizontal communication’ floating above the vaporous roundness of the hammam, as well as an escape towards a world above, dissident, still to be reached, a symbolism also found in other films, such as Pépé le Moko (Julien Duvivier, 1937) and A Special Day (Ettore Scola, 1977).
Daniel Armogathe (translated by Sabine Haenni)
1. Bernard Génin, ‘L’hymne à la joie’, interview with Ferid Boughedir, Télérama, 26 September 1990.
2. Nicolas Saada, ‘Halfaouine’, Les Cahiers du cinéma, No. 433, June 1990, p. 61.
3. Ferid Boughedir in L’Evénement du jeudi, 27 September 1990.
Cast and Crew:
[Country: Tunisia, France. Production Company: Cinétéléfilms, Scarabée Films, FranceMedia, La SEPT, RTT, WDR. Producers: Ahmed Attia, Hassen Daldoul, Eliane Stutterheim. Director: Ferid Boughedir. Screenwriters: Ferid Boughedir, Nouri Bouzid, Taoufik Jebali, Maryse León García. Cinematographer: Georges Barsky. Music: Anouar Braham. Editor: Moufida Tlatli. Cast: Selim Boughedir (Noura), Mustapha Adouani (Si Azzouz), Rabia Ben Abdallah (La Jamila), Mohamed Driss (Salih), Hélène Catzaras (Latifa), Fatima Ben Saidane (Salouha), Abdelhamid Gayess (Cheikh Mokhtar), Jamel Sassi (Moncef), Radhouane Meddeb (Mounir), Carolyn Chelby (Leila).]
Ferid Boughedir interview, You Tube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BAOyBEI9lI.
Sonia Chamkhi, Le cinéma tunisien à la lumière de la modernité (1996–2006), Tunis, Centre de publication universitaire, 2009.
Jean-Michel Frodon, ‘Regard d’enfance’, Le Monde, 27 September 1990.
Jacques Grant, Halfaouine, Ministère de l’Education nationale, Collège au cinéma, Dossier 40, Paris, C.N.C., 1992.
Sélim Nassib, ‘Sexe, Femmes et Halfaouine’, Libération, 27 September 1990.
Vinent Ostria, ‘L’œil du désir, Cahiers du cinéma, No. 435, September 1990, 67–8. www.cinematunisien.com
The Routledge Encyclopedia of Films, Edited by Sarah Barrow, Sabine Haenni and John White, first published in 2015.