FESTIVAL DEL FILM LOCARNO, SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE – DESCRIPTION BY SASCHA LARA BLEULER: “After a short introduction, the film’s opening credits perfectly illustrate the director’s identity crisis. Karim Alexander becomes Alex, and his exotic<sounding family name Ben Hassen is replaced by his Dutch mother’s maiden name, Pitstra. As she was visiting Tunisia in the 70s after her divorce, she let her spirits be lifted by the young Mohsen Ben Hassen. Their passionate love story burnt so bright she had to end it just a few years later in the Netherlands: their cultural differences seemed to have become insurmountable and Mohsen started to showcase a more and more controlling behaviour. She took the decision to raise her son on her own.
20 years later and equipped with a camera, Karim decides to go looking for his father and manages to convince his half<sister Jasmin, who lives in Basel, to come with him to Tunisia. The young feminist and future doctor only knows of her father through the tales of horror her mother – Mohsen’s second wife – used to share with her. As for the man himself, he remarried once more in Sousse and seems thrilled to see his children again – so much so that he decides to repaint the guest room in honour of Jasmin. Mohsen and his brother feel no shame in talking about their “Bezness” history, which was deeply entrenched in North African culture. Back then, Tunisia was a very popular tourist hub which attracted many European women who gave in to the promises of local gigolos. Mohsen painfully and nostalgically recalls these blessed times, when the hotels that are now empty used to shine like a thousand suns, as documented by the vintage photographs.
As they want to know more, the two siblings uncover the secrets of their Tunisian family, one astonishing revelation after another, like the moment when their aunt emotionally remembers the womanizing days of her brothers, all the while hoping for the younger ones to marry European women as well.
This quest for family roots goes far beyond psychoanalytical self<centredness and explores a great deal of preconceived ideas and intercultural markers. The son/director exercises perfect control over his dual role and comments on the events with a cold, snappy sense of humour. The study he undertakes thus transforms into a fascinating family saga full of twists and turns.“