By Tafi Mhaka
Leaving home for a foreign country is the hard part.
Landing papers to stay there is the hardest part.
Getting the right papers to find a proper job is the most difficult part of the journey.
Not landing in jail is the tricky part in this alien matrix.
In Jassad Gharib or Corps Etranger or Foreign Body, the latest film from acclaimed Tunisian writer-director Raja Amari, Samia, a beautiful young woman, lands in Paris, France fresh from fleeing from Tunisia, where she feared her brother, an Islamic jihadist, would attack her for informing on him.
She left a Tunisia in massive turmoil, a Tunisia in violent transition, as the Jasmine Revolution swung into full swing.
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, President of Tunisia for 37 years, also left Tunisia about then – in fear of his life, as the people of Tunisia rebelled against his suppressive and corrupt regime.
A report on Tunisia by The Economist alleged “The old regime was so crooked that by the time Mr Ben Ali was deposed, firms connected to him reaped 21% of private-sector profits, while employing just 0.8% of the workforce and producing just 3.2% of output, according to a report from the World Bank.”
Ben Ali fled to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia with his wife, Leile Ben Ali, his three children and loads of relatives and friends – all members of his close inner circle.
His authoritarian rule left a rather unimpressive legacy of high unemployment and endemic corruption that enabled the rise of radical Islamic groups like Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia.
This is the man-made terror Samia flees in a risky flight for survival.
A nondescript Samia lands in France clearly hoping for the best.
She is deeply overwrought by a heady sensation of cautious optimism and anxiety.
She hopes to land some papers and land a job somewhere.
Imed – a kind young man from Tunisia – takes her in.
She gets a job working for a Leila, an older, slightly domineering middle-class lady, who is struggling to come to terms with her husband’s death.
A visibly uncomfortable Samia becomes embedded in a fantastically tense situation, which is fraught with sexual tension.
Raja Amari was born in Tunis. She completed a Master’s degree in French literature at the University of Tunis and studied cinema at La Fémis.
Her features include Satin Rouge, Buried Secrets, and Foreign Body.
Amari not only wants us to experience the struggles immigrants face, but she also wants us to feel the inner turmoil people run into.
“I wanted to draw the portrait of an immigrant and her struggle to survive from an intimate perspective. I wanted to depict two female immigrants drawn together in a shady relationship tied to desire and rejection that evolves in an unexpected way. They are both fragile and strong in [the midst of political and social turmoil. It’s a film about shifting borders and identities, both realistic and fantasised.”
Foreign Body stars Hiam Abbass, Sarra Hannachi, and Salim Kechiouche.
It made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8.