France / Tunisia, 1957 (MIFF 1960, Programme 5)
Director: Jacques Baratier
Goha shaves his head, wears a white crocheted skull-cap, and has a mole on the side of his nose. But he is handsome, this young Arab, with soft dark eyes and a disarming grin. He is ingenuous, unambitious, fond of his donkey. . .
Although made by a French director and crew, this is nevertheless a completely Arabian film in concept and presentation. The hero seems to come straight from the Arabian Nights stories, and the film was shot entirely in Tunisia, in the streets of Kairouan, Hammamet, Sidi Bon Said and Djerba, whilst it is acted by a largely Arab cast.
Goha, accompanied by his donkey, wanders through the town, creating mischief and laughter wherever he goes, though he is almost invariably in trouble with his father, who feels Allah has treated him unfairly giving him such an idiot for a son and allowing the rest of his ten children to be daughters. Goha's father is slightly mollified, however, when the town's wisest man, Taj El Ouloum, befriends Goha and agrees to teach him at the University. Gohad decides to make the most of his opportunities, but even here he cannot help clowning, especially when he learned men start talking about the nature of truth and not one of them can agree with another. Taj El Ouloum, in spite of his great wisdom and learning, feels that his life has lost its savour and decides to take a young bride, the beautiful Fulla. It is not long before she finds her life boring. She sees Goha and falls in love with him and naturally Goha, young and romantic, enters completely into the spirit of the intrigue. Alas! Fate is notoriously unkind to young love. . .
There is an affecting melancholy in the conclusion of this story - somewhat at odds with the diverting humour of much of the telling. But then the shape of the narrative is never expected - sometimes curious and ruminant, then surprising us with sudden and refreshing episodes. And there is a warm suggestiveness with which the makers shepherd us, at an unfamiliar pace, through a tradition of fable so different from our own. Its simple sincerity is very rewarding, the Arabic scarcely sounds like a language at all - and the colours themselves are jewel-bright.