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  Black Medusa Teeth Of The Serpent
Year: 2021
Director: Youssef Chebbi, Ismael
Stars: Nour Hajri, Rym Hayouni, Aymen Ben Hmida, Sarah Alina Grosz, Mehdi Hajri, Kadhem Harrazi, Callum Francis Hugh, Aymen Mejri, Karim Remadi, Alaeddine Slim
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Nada (Nour Hajri) sets out on a project over the next nine nights, starting with the man she met in a bar in Tunis. She uses an app on her phone to help her communicate, as she cannot speak, and this comes in handy when she needs to look like a good listener, whether she is deaf or not - nobody can quite tell. But the man she accompanies out of the bar has more than he bargained on his hands, already the worse for wear for drink, he practically staggers down the street until they reach his apartment block and Nada helps him inside. Then, as he passes out on the floor, she pulls down his trousers, takes a broom handle, and rapes him with it. Soon the man is dead, and she is contemplating her next excursion into the night...

Is Nada exacting vengeance on all men in general, a la her spiritual ancestor in cinema, Abel Ferrara's Ms.45? That film would seem to be the chief influence on writers and directors Youssef Chebbi and Ismael's work here, complete with a mute heroine, though Nada never uses a firearm, as a knife is her weapon of choice which she employs in a controlled frenzy of stabbing on her victims. Some identified the contemporary Promising Young Woman as the best filmic analogy, but as they were in production around similar times, it would have been coincidence that both were released in the same year, maybe there was something in the air about disdainful female murderers of men, though it was unfortunate that the other, higher profile movie stole this one's thunder.

If you did take a chance on Black Medusa, you would find a coldly inscrutable effort that appeared to be two male directors and writers taking the side of all abused women, not something that would be a natural fit for a grim drama made in the West at this time as there it was judged women were best at telling those stories of abuse. Nada has been raped, that much is clear from an obliquely filmed flashback, and here the two men act as enablers to help her achieve catharsis - you cannot imagine there were many female directors in Tunisia able to bring this sort of score-settling to the screen, and Hajri was a powerful presence, strong enough to convey an ownership of her character's story in a manner that suggested this was a proper collaboration, a meeting of minds, rather than being the directors' mannequin.

The other main character was another woman, Nada's work colleague Noura (Rym Hayouni), and she made an impression too as a more human contrast to her new friend's posing as an angel of vengeance. She gradually begins to work out there is something - quite a lot, actually - amiss with this apparently disadvantaged editor, though Noura and we come to realise the disadvantage is with Nada’s total lack of compassion. Yes, the men of Tunisia as seen here can be sexist boors who won't take no for an answer, but then again there are the other men who are simply lonely and want someone to talk to far more than they want anything sexual, but it makes no difference to Nada, she will murder them anyway. As you can see, under the unnerving surface there appeared to be a lot going on, but it was difficult to say that the film genuinely got to grips with the subjects it brought up: was it a thriller that thought it was a drama, or vice versa? Hajri and Hayouni kept you watching as an intriguing dynamic for an African film, but it had the tone of a stepping stone work, a move on the way to somewhere else. Maybe necessary, but hard to assess. Music by Omar Aloulou.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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