THE SEASON OF MEN (Moufida Tlatli, 2000)

The inferiority of Arab women is maintained by their men as a matter of prerogative but also by the women themselves who hand down their traditional lot to their daughters. Aicha, in Moufida Tlatli’s very quiet, magnificent Maussim al-riyal, is different. Aicha contests husband Said’s “rule,” providing a positive example to their daughters, Meriem and Emna; yet the principal arena in which she asserts herself, ironically, ties her to those traditions of male authority she chafes against. Eleven months out of the year Said lives in Tunis, selling rugs, while wife and daughters remain together on the island of Djerba. Aicha bucks tradition by petitioning her husband to join him in Tunis—a radical step toward self-determination that nonetheless reinforces Said’s centrality in her firmament. Said relents, saying she can join him if she stops giving him daughters and does what she is supposed to do: give him a son. But the boy she bears him, dear, increasingly uncontrollable Aziz, is autistic. This isn’t the outcome Said bargained for. When the marriage disintegrates, Aicha takes her offspring to Said’s closed-up family house that, contrary to her hopes for a fresh start, reawaken her memories of earlier misery there—memories I’ve already highlighted, to which one must add Aicha’s mother-in-law from hell. Attracting others, Aicha comes to head a commune of female joy and suffering.
     From Tunisia, the film tightly weaves together—with thin or invisible transitions—past and present. Both Aicha’s daughters appear to extend their mother’s misguided (because male-fixated) jab at feminism, one by her love affair with a married man, and the other by her continued postponement of sexual relations with her spouse. A visual refrain shows Aicha weaving carpets. Shots of her face through the machine suggest her ongoing imprisonment.

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