Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
A co-ed raped by cops is further traumatized by a society more prone to disdain and brutality than empathy in Kaouther Ben Hania’s “Beauty and the Dogs,” a film that boasts impressively fluid long takes yet comes up short in the script department. Taking such a powerful theme and then piling on every expected twist makes it feel like the director’s understandable outrage over similar, factual cases blurred her understanding of modulation — a surprise given the conceptual sophistication of her excellent mockumentary debut “Challat of Tunis.”
The callousness of (un)civil society, together with police repulsiveness, is a subject needing to be constantly re-examined, yet Ben Hania’s almost chilly mise-en-scène lessens the emotional impact of the protagonist’s truly nightmarish plight. Although multiple film funds and a high percentage of European backers are involved, no doubt lured by worthy issues and the director’s previous successes, sales aren’t likely to meet expectations.
The film’s visual codes work best at the start, as Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani) borrows a slinky electric dress after her own — black, with a prim Peter Pan collar — gets torn. The new outfit isn’t her style, but she’s the co-organizer of a college party at a Tunis disco, and she’s enjoying getting into the swing of things. A flirtation develops with Youssef (Ghanem Zrelli), and just as they head outside for a walk, the film cuts and Mariam is seen distraught and running down the street with Youssef at her heels. At first the viewer thinks he’s chasing her and she wants to get away, but no, it’s a flight of mindless desperation, as she’s just been raped by some cops in a car.
Youssef takes her to a nearby private clinic where the female attendant treats her with contempt, silently making conclusions from her revealing dress while refusing to let her see…