This article examines the cultural politics of bastardy in the films of Tunisian filmmaker Nouri Bouzid at a time when questions of national and cultural identity have come to the fore in Tunisia in the wake of the Revolution of Freedom and Dignity. Nouri Bouzid is the doyen of Tunisian cinema. Not only was he involved in every major postcolonial film, whether as a screenwriter, a scriptwriter, or even as an actor, but he single-handedly directed more than half a dozen films, each of which enjoyed wide national and international acclaim. His debut film, Man of Ashes, dramatizes the trauma of child molestation and the collapse of filial relations as well as the emergence of a new generation of men who seek to recast filial and familial relations beyond blood ties and familial limitations. This same cinematic pursuit is further developed in his later films with striking consistency and perseverance. At a time when the postrevolutionary public sphere is saturated with heated debates around Tunisian national identity, propelled by fantasies of purity and virile filiation, Bouzid’s bastard characters serve, the author argues, not only to warp and reclaim the political playing field for revolutionary purposes but also to remind Tunisians of the disturbing legacy of bastardy (instituted by a long history of colonial rape from the Romans to the French) to which they had been and continue to be heirs, and with which they have to reckon. Studying the rhetoric of bastardy in Bouzid’s cinema leaves us in the end with the touching yet unsparing conclusion that for Bouzid there are no Tunisians until they have assumed their bastardy.
Sons of a Beach: The Politics of Bastardy in the Cinema of Nouri Bouzid
Nouri Gana is associate professor of comparative literature and Near Eastern languages and cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of Signifying Loss: Toward a Poetics of Narrative Mourning (2011) and the editor of The Edinburgh Companion to the Arab Novel in English (2013, 2015) and The Making of the Tunisian Revolution: Contexts, Architects, Prospects (2013). He is currently completing a book manuscript on the cultural politics of melancholia in the Arab world and another on the history of cultural dissent in colonial and postcolonial Tunisia.