October 20, 2021

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‘A Tale of Love and Desire’ and Leyla Bouzid on Arab masculinity

3 min read

“A Tale of Love and Desire” is the story of a young Arab in Paris whose first love is the discovery of a different Arab culture, which is sensual and liberating.

The film was screened as part of the New World View section of the Zurich Film Festival, which is celebrating a new generation of Tunisian filmmakers this year.

Lila Bauzid says in her sophomore feature that she wanted to tell the story of a young man who had his first love and first sexual experience. The idea, he said, was to “offer another aspect of masculinity, a different kind of story that is not presented in other films. It’s something that’s missing from our movies.”

It is difficult to express the matter simply because of modern social customs. “Painting the body of a young Arab man, even if he’s French, the way others see it, is already something political: being interested in his body, his skin, his sexuality is already something political.”

At the center of the story is Lajuk Ahmed (starring Sami Outlaw, who starred in Netflix’s “Sex Education”), a student from an Algerian family who grew up in a Paris suburb, and the orgasm of Eastern culture. While studying literature in the Sorbonne, he met Farah (Zebeda Belhazamor), a young Tunisian who had just arrived in Paris.

Many young people of Arab descent who grew up in France lack connections to their roots, their language, heritage and history and have lost recognition for a generation, Bauzid notes. The complex history of France with Algeria is a subject that is not really taught in French schools, he added. Unlike Spanish, Italian and German, Arabic is not offered in schools as a foreign language.

In contrast, Tunisian students are learning every detail of the French colony in North Africa. For many young Tunisians going to France, the lack of knowledge about that history is evident among many Frenchmen, he added. This is something he shows in his pictures, where it is universal Farah, and 12th century Arabic literature, which gives Ahmad an enlightened, progressive understanding of sex.

Among the many Arabic writings discussed in the film is the ancient love story of “Laila and Majnoon”, a young couple who fall in love but are unable to live together. Poet Majnun is madly in love with Layla, his great unattainable music forever. The lasting impact of the story has been evident over the centuries as an inspiration for Eric Clapton and his classic Derek and Dominos hit “Layla”.

In Outbali and Belhazamore, Bauzid found the ideal actor to star young lovers. “I wanted the film to be really sensual, something you can feel very deeply, so I needed two actors who really have this sensuality.”

“Sami Ahmed is very different. It’s fun to see him in ‘sex education’. In real life he’s not a really shy person, but he really understood the film and wanted to play this character very strongly.

While preparing for the shooting, Bauzid shared some pictures with Outlaw, including those starring James Gray’s “two lovers”, Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow, to give a sense of the character stored in his mind.

Bauzid similarly got the perfect female lead from Tunisian actress Belhazamore in the role of her first feature film. “When I met him it was clear that he could be Farah, he could drive Ahmed crazy with love, similarly Majnoon went crazy.”

When Outlawley and Belhazamo first met in Paris for a screen test, “there was a really strong chemistry between them. Something was going on, so much so that we decided they would never meet again to hold on to that chemistry.

Bauzid is currently writing his next film project, an untitled drama set in the Tunisian city of Sousse. He said it would be very different with an element of mystery.

“A Tale of Love and Desire” is selling the pyramid internationally, which has also released the film in France.

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