Tunisian filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania’s critically-acclaimed, award-winning “Le Challat de Tunis
” (“Challat of Tunis”) is based on a true 2003 story of a mysterious man on a motorcycle, who rode through the streets of Tunis (the North African country’s capital) carrying a razor blade, on a mission: to slash the butts of women he came across on the city’s streets, whom he felt weren’t dressed appropriately.
They called him “Le Challat,” a word which comes from the slang “Chalta,” which means a line, or a line cut with a blade or a pen knife, which was something that gangsters used to mark territory, or to mark a person who opposed their territorial jurisdiction, or to extract payment from recalcitrant city dwellers or businessmen.
From one neighborhood to the next, rumors about the mysterious man started to spread. Some said he was a religious nut; others said he was the member of an inactive cell of Al-Qaida intent on punishing women whom he felt openly mocked its ideology. People also said that “Le Challat” was on some kind of a revenge mission, because his own wife cheated on him. And with the threat of “Le Challat” hanging over them, Tunisian women even considered changing the way they dressed, to essentially meet the slasher’s expectations of how a Tunisian woman should carry herself: no more tight jeans, or mini skirts, nothing showing skin, etc. He was on everyone’s lips and minds, but no one had ever seen this man face-to-face.
Years later, director Ben Hania took up the challenge of investigating the legend of “Le Challat” on film, in the feature project “Le Challat de Tunis.” The film was selected to open the ACID program at last year’s edition of the Cannes International Film Festival. ACID is a French film directors association seeking to promote the distribution of independent films.
Its ACID screening was generally well-received, albeit with a few concerns.
Here’s a piece of Variety’s review: “… Mockumentaries generally have culturally specific elements that play best to local audiences, and Kaouther Ben Hania’s hilarious and acerbic “Challat of Tunis” is a prime example. Ostensibly about the helmer’s search for a man who slashed 11 women from his motorbike back in 2003, the pic shines a discomfiting light on Tunisia’s attitudes toward women, using a fake-docu approach that many outside the Arab world won’t fully grasp, at least at the start. Foreknowledge should ease any hesitation at laughter, which means critical hype will be vital, though the film will work best with diasporan communities at targeted showcases.
And from The Hollywood Reporter: “This playful blend of real and fake documentary uses a bizarre true story of unsolved knife attacks against women to examine gender politics in newly democratic Offering a wry feminist critique of macho chauvinism in Arab culture, Tunisian writer-director Kaouther Ben Hania’s second feature is an intriguing addition to the boom in low-budget filmmaking inspired by the recent wave of Middle East revolutions. Screening in the ultra-indie ACID sidebar in Cannes, this Tunisian/Canadian/UAE co-production is founded on a strong central idea, but lacks the satirical bite and sharp production values to give it universal resonance. Specialist regional and festival screenings seem likely to provide its main public exposure.”
Director Hania planned to make a straightforward documentary on “Le Challat,” but, following the Tunisian Revolution of 2011, she rethought the project as more of a mock-documentary, using the “Challat” story to interrogate the sexual politics of her newly democratic homeland.
The film contains fake and real interviews with slasher victims, investigators, lawyers and regular folks, as it narrows in on the title character, who turns out to be “a hotheaded mommy’s boy who models himself on Al Pacino in ‘Scarface’,” as The Hollywood Reporter’s
If you’re in New York City and your interest has been tickled, check out the film this Sunday, when it screens as part of the
exhibition, “Films From Here: Recent Views from the Arab World,” which runs through September 29, 2015 at MoMA. It screens at 1:30pm on Sunday, September 27.
For the rest of the country, no word yet on where else the film will screen. But when I know, so will you. It’ll likely also be released on some home video platform eventually.
A trailer – this time with English subtitles thankfully – is embedded below: