I’m reluctant to refer to Raja Amari’s film, “Buried Secrets,” as Tunisian film after the verbal brow beating she took from several Tunisians in the audience.
The film is about three woman living secretly in an old, abandoned family home, hiding from the world—and particularly the men in it–for years. Their isolation is disturbed by the arrival of a happy young couple, a distant relative of theirs before their universe fell apart. At first comic and then creepy and then plain tragic, this film deals with sexual repression, incest, consequent insanity. Not pleasant topics. And certainly not topics exclusive to Tunisia. However, several Tunisians present were quite vocal in saying that they didn’t approve of the filmmaker showing her country in such an ugly right. Amari was clearly upset by this, saying she had not made a film about Tunisia. But they kept on, saying that she had an obligation to represent her country positively. Now if this film had been done by an American, most Americans would have accused him of casting a negative light on problems in the U.S. For example, Precious is playing here, and that is no beauty shot of the U.S., but no one is blaming the filmmaker. That’s because the U.S. produces hundreds of films every year that see the light of day. But in smaller, poorer countries, with very small to non-existent film industries, filmmakers find themselves being celebrated by the press as “the Tunisian film” or “the Peruvian film,” and in that way are denied their freedom of expression as much as any government could deny them, as it is too much responsibility for a filmmaker to be the national film publicist for her country.