Badiaa Abdallah in KhochkhachLast night we drove down Wisconsin Ave. into northwest DC to watch the Tunisian film Khochkhach (Fleur d’oubli) accompanied by Leilouta, her husband and blogger Freedom for Egyptians. The movie was running as part of the Arabian Sights Film Festival, now in full swing.

Fleur d'oubli film poster
I enjoyed Khochkhach a great deal for a number of reasons: the engaging script, the powerful acting and the beautiful Tunisian scenery. The movie’s major theme revolves around the misery of a woman trapped in a sexless marriage to a secretly homosexual husband. To alleviate her pain, the protagonist Zakia seeks pleasure in Khochkhach tea, primarily used in Tunis in the early 1940’s to ease the pain of women after child birth and to put newborns to sleep. Since Khochkhach tea is derived from poppy plants, it was quite effective. As Zakiah’s desperation grows so does an addiction. She reaches rock bottom and ends up in an asylum.

Based on a true story, the movie boldly crosses red lines in the Arab world by discussing taboo issues such as a woman’s need for sexual fulfillment and homosexuality.

Director Salma Baccar behind the lensAccording to director Salam Baccar, who was present for a Q&A after the movie, the issue of homosexuality was not taken lightly by the Arabic press. She explained that many reviewers could not fathom the concept of an aristocratic, virile Tunisian man who is homosexual. Another interesting point Baccar brought up during the discussion was the fact that there is a very limited market for Tunisian movies, as the Arab market is dominated by Egyptian movies. As a result the market for this movie is first and foremost Tunisia and then Europe, especially France. But Baccar said she is still struggling to find a distributor and hoping to market her movie to the rest of the west.

Finally, it is also worth noting that Badiaa Abdallah, who played Zakia, did a fantastic job in conveying a woman’s journey of sorrow and then, ultimate peace. If you ever get the chance to see this movie, do not hesitate. It is so beautifully done and conveys a very potent message.