SATIN ROUGE (Raja Amari, 2002)

Drawing upon various metaphors for the divided existence that Arab women are forced into because of Arab culture’s insistence that women deny their sexuality, Tunisian writer-director Raja Amari’s charming, interesting Red Satin follows Lilia (Israeli Palestinian Hiyam Abbas, rock-solid) on her odyssey of integration and self-discovery. Since becoming a widow, housewife Lilia has focused on raising teenaged daughter Salma and on dutifully continuing to meet the expectations of her in-laws, who wish Lilia to remain faithful to their deceased son’s memory. In effect, Lilia’s life is supposed to have ended with the death of her spouse.
     Amari’s film opens deliciously. Transported by upbeat music from the radio, Lilia, housecleaning, gradually starts dancing; she even lets down her hair. A panning camera’s implied unified existence turns ironical when Lilia, confronted by her late husband’s bedroom photograph, stops dancing and puts her hair back up.
     Lilia lives at a remove, for instance, by espying her daughter in the latter’s dance class. On the street, Lilia peers through an open door; a distant figure appears at the end of a corridor bathed in a satiny red glow: simultaneously, Lilia’s glance into a strange place and into her own forbidden unconscious. Later, she enters the world of this club, where women belly-dance, first as an engrossed onlooker, then as a participant. This hidden world of Lilia’s alternates with her conventional existence: television soap operas; buying fruits and vegetables. Connected to a darker world of prostitution, which she does not enter, Lilia eventually, unbeknownst to any of the three, shares with Salma a musician-boyfriend. Meanwhile, she is living a double life.
     Amari’s quiet film is punctuated by red: tree-leaves; walls; lights, hence, flesh; lipstick; Lilia’s drab dress and the glittery scant costume she changes into.
     Best film, best script, Torino.

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