Leyla Bouzid • Director
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Young Tunisian director Leyla Bouzid, a student of the Fémis film school in Paris, has made her feature-film debut with a Franco-Belgian-Tunisian co-production entitled As I Open My Eyes. Set six months before the events of the Arab Spring, this film, which was in competition in the Venice Days, tells the story of young heroine Farah, who voices her rebellion through her music.
Tunisia, summer 2010
The movie is set in the summer of 2010, and it's true that during the Tunisian revolution in 2011, everyone wanted to film in the streets, make documentaries and talk about this revolution, so I said to myself straight away: "We're finally going to be able to go back to the time of Ben Ali, and talk about the police state, the stifling atmosphere for the young and the not-so-young, the atmosphere of paranoia.” It's true that in Tunisia we lived under a great weight of oppression, and we could feel it suffocating us, but we didn't dare talk politics or break free, and so I found it a highly significant atmosphere, especially in the summer of 2010, as something was building. We felt that we were getting a little tired of what had happened and that maybe something else was going to happen. At any rate, it was going to end and so I found that it was really important to talk about this atmosphere, particularly the police state where we were monitored all the time, the state that people don’t really learn about just by passing through.
The heroine: Farah
Farah is an 18-year-old Tunisian woman who’s free, impulsive and who wants to really live her life freely. She is a singer and is therefore, in some ways, an artist who is trying to make something of herself. It's a time when she discovers life and love: she starts going out, her band starts putting on concerts, and she has a real appetite for life that only 18-year-olds can have, and she ends up running into a whole range of things she didn't really expect.
I found it interesting that the young characters are modern, but at the same time are bogged down in a tradition; they're torn between tradition and modernity. So Borhène is an artist, modern and open-minded, but he can't help being jealous and a little macho. I believe that all of the characters in the film aren't just black and white; they're a little bit grey, ambivalent. The policemen are amorous, they're romantic men, and so is Borhène, but he can also be a little closed off. I think that that's a much more realistic picture of Tunisian society because there's no real sense of absolute modernity or open-mindedness, but there's no real sense of absolute conservatism, either. Borhène is a true representation of that, the ambiguity that typifies a lot of Tunisian men.
Farah and her mother
This movie tackles the portrayal and the evolution of the character of Farah’s mother. At the beginning she is slightly harsh, and then, little by little, we get to know her and understand her reasons. Over the course of the movie, the mother herself understands who she was and who she has become. She becomes aware of her past, triggering an evolution in her character where she seems closed off, but at the same time, we gradually realise that she used to be someone different, and we come to understand the reasons why she gave up. The movie talks about Tunisian youth, but also about a generation who gave up, and who, now finally in contact with their youth, have been able to find some sort of belief that they themselves had when they were young.
The songs in the movie
Music made an appearance very early on in the storyline, with all the songs playing a dramatic role, so each song should give you a certain feeling or put you in a certain state of mind. There’s a light-hearted song, a more melancholy song; each song has its own character. I worked with a Tunisian writer, who wrote in the Tunisian dialect, called Ghassan Amami. He'd written a few songs in the past, but wrote some songs for the movie, and specifically for the scenes in which they would be heard. Then I worked with an Iraqi musician called Khyam Allami, who used the lyrics, and worked with the band, because the lead actress and singer wasn't a professional singer. So he worked with her and her voice to compose music that was both acoustic and alternative rock. The music, partnered with the lyrics we had, really worked to create the mood I wanted whenever a song was heard. It was a big task and an enormous challenge to write the music for the movie and to create a music group: all of the sessions we filmed were live sessions in which the band was really playing. They sang live during the filming, and so that was pretty exciting as well.