By Amy Nicholson
By LA Weekly critics
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Anthony D'Alessandro
SATIN ROUGE, THE FIRST FILM FROM TUNISIAN director Raja Amari, opens on a woman cleaning her apartment. Hair bound tight above her head, clothing drab, face devoid of makeup, she lavishes special attention upon a set of framed pictures of smiling people, images of a happier past. When she goes on to examine her own image in a mirror, she registers dissatisfaction, then brings out a rag and starts to polish.
Lilia (Hiam Abbass), we learn, is a widow who, following the death of her husband, has never managed to restart her life. She spends her days in resigned contentment at home, dusting the same surfaces and watching the same soap operas, as if unaware that the world might possibly offer more. When she isn't doing minor sewing jobs for neighbors who tend not to pay, Lilia is worrying about her college-age daughter, Salma (Hend El Fahem), who has stopped eating and begun staying out all night. In the effort to spy upon Salma's relationship with her dance instructor, Chokri (Maher Kamoun), Lilia stumbles one night into the cabaret where Chokri plays drums. But Salma is nowhere to be found, and Lilia finds herself overwhelmed by a smoky club full of chanting men, gyrating women, and the promise of debauchery. By the next day, what initially horrified her has become her obsession. Soon Lilia is sneaking out at night to the cabaret -- ostensibly to perform costume alterations for the club's aging stage manager and den mother Folla (Monia Hichri), though she ends up dancing herself, tentatively at first, then with abandon.
Set in Tunis, Satin Rougeestablishes a contrast between the strict, religion-centered life of the daytime, with its incessant Muslim calls to prayer, and the clandestine nighttime world in which Lilia rediscovers her womanhood amid pounding rhythms and jubilant song. While the other dancers view their craft purely in terms of a meal ticket, for Lilia it's a spiritual awakening. (The club's manager at one point accuses her of dancing for herself while ignoring the paying customers.)
Writer-director Amari depicts Lilia's transformation in a variety of external ways: Her bouncy perm, perilous high heels and a gaudy new purse impress even her fashion-forward young daughter. At an incrementally deeper level, Satin Rouge is a film in which costumes (by Magdalena Garcia Caniz) define character and destiny: Lilia's re-awakening is directly proportional to the amount of belly she exposes. At the same time, each of her garments speaks in its own special voice. Early on, when Lilia caresses one of her tightly buttoned pale-gray shirts, the soundtrack captures the thickness and roughness of the material, and the extent to which her very essence is choked and confined. Later, when she dances, she finds freedom in costumes of satin and silk, shimmering with sequins and beads. But while the costumes hint at changes beneath the surface, it is Abbass' performance, as she vacillates flawlessly between muted hausfrau and shining hoofer, that reveals the depths of her transformation.
Of course, what has sparked some controversy in Tunisia's conservative Arab culture will likely appear tame to U.S. audiences, especially if they come looking for a kind of Muslim Showgirls. Moreover, Satin Rougetreads rather too lightly over its most problematic relationships: Though Lilia actively pursues her daughter's boyfriend, those expecting emotional fireworks when the truth inevitably comes out haven't been paying attention to the measured tones in which the movie delivers its material. Still, predictable as Satin Rouge's plot points may be, it ultimately resists characterization as an amiable and conventional tale of sexual rebirth, thanks to an ambiguous final shot that reopens much of the film to further interpretation.
Pilar López de Ayala as
Juana La Lo
(Photo by Ignacio Deamo)
Joan's first tastes of love, and lovemaking, are intoxicating, and the couple spends the next few years in seemingly endless heated copulation, taking advantage of Joan's incredible fertility to produce several royal offspring. In reality, though, Philip is too dedicated an epicure to be satisfied by just one woman; not long into the royal marriage, he's begun working his way through the queen's handmaidens. Joan discovers his infidelity at an inopportune time -- the same day she learns that her mother's death has made her queen of Castile. Philip counterattacks with accusations of madness, which Joan, with her undignified penchant for public necking and public tantrums, does nothing to dispel. Once returned to Spain, Philip -- now in love with a satiny rogue of a devil-worshipping Moorish belly dancer -- plots with his advisers to have Joan declared incompetent to rule.
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