Tunisian entry to the competition “Inhebbek Hedi” by Mohamed Ben Attia

Hedi” by Mohamed Ben Attia
Hedi” by Mohamed Ben Attia | Photo: Frederic Noirhomme © NOMADIS IMAGES-LES FILMS DU FLEUVE–TANIT FILMS

Tunisian director Mohamed Ben Attia’s “Inhebbek Hedi”  (I love you, Hedi) is in the running for the Golden Bear.

Most Arab films shown at major festivals after the Arab Spring erupted were more or less heavily influenced by the recent political events. The Tunisian director Mohamed Ben Attia’s Inhebbek Hedi tells a profoundly human story instead.

Hedi, a young Tunisian, actually wants to be left in peace. Which is why he willingly leaves the planning of his life to others: his mother, his big brother, his boss and his fiancée. But then Hedi falls head over heels in love with a dancer, Rim, just a few days before he is supposed to be getting married. For the first time in his life, he experiences what it means to be happy. And suddenly he understands: if you want to be happy, you have to make some decisions and face some conflicts.

Ambiguity and conflict

Hedi is torn: should he go his own way or do what society expects of him? Non-Arab speakers unfortunately don’t realize this conflict is encapsulated in the very title of the film: Inhebbek Hedi is not only Rim’s declaration of love (“I love you, Hedi”), which triggers Hedi’s rebellion, but it’s also paradoxically the highest precept of a society that expects the young generation to keep calm – the ambiguity stems from the literal meaning of the name Hedi: “calm”.

Hedi’s dilemma is, to be sure, not a purely Arab phenomenon. And yet it is particularly the social structures in Arab countries that continually place obstacles in the paths of young people who dream of greater individual freedoms. Even young adults still often have to submit to the overpowering dictates of family and society. This is why Hedi may seem a love story at first glance, but it also contains a large measure of protest against a society that tries with all its might to foist certain values on its youth, such as an orderly, settled life made up of family, traditions and a steady income.

The film hinges on the acting

Mohamed Ben Attia films his story as straightforwardly as possible. To capture the protagonists’ emotions more effectively, he foregoes the use of a static camera as well as, for the most part, artificial lighting. Instead he banks on his actors’ performances, above all Majd Mastoura as Hedi, supported by Sabah Bouzouita as his mother and Rym Ben Messaoud as Rim.

Inhebbek Hedi is the first Tunisian film to be entered in the Berlinale competition since Férid Boughedir’s comedy A Summer in La Goulette 20 years ago.