"The String" ("Le fil," Algeria, France, Belgium 2009, 92 minutes, in French and Arabic with English subtitles), the debut film of director Mehdi Ben Attia, being given its East Coast premiere by QFest, Philadelphia's LGBT film festival, demonstrates how tough it is to come out in Tunisia. "The String" tells a love story of epic proportions, as affected by class, cultural and religious difference.
Thirty-year-old architect Malik (Antonin Stahly) returns to Tunisia from France after the death of his father and meets breathtakingly handsome Balil (Salim Kechiouche-"Full Speed," "Grande école," "3 Dancing Slaves"), who functions as Malik's family's servant. This comes just at the moment when, after the openness of Paris, Malik feels as if he's been thrown back to another time, living, as he is, once again in a North African beach town that does not tolerate open homosexuality. Stahly and Kechiouche depict Malik and Balil's love for each other with tenderness and awe, as the discovery of true soul mates.
Malik suffers numerous anxiety attacks, in which memories or visions of binding strings and constricting webs play a part, relating to his homosexuality and his family, and principally to his mother, Sara, played with stellar ferocity by superstar Claudia Cardinale (Federico Fellini's "8-1/2," Luchino Visconti's "Gattopardo," Richard Brooks' "The Professionals," Blake Edwards' "The Pink Panther"). Cardinale portrays a formidable parent, who wants nothing less, for her son, than his marriage to the right woman, and is scandalized when she learns that he is gay, playing her initial disgust and anguish, over his feeling for her handyman, to the hilt. She soon learns that there are other gays and lesbians in her circle-including both Malik's cousin, Wassim (Ali Mrabet), and his colleague Sirine (Ramla Ayari), to whom he will lend his name as father of her and her lover's baby-who are fully accepted by their parents, her relatives and peers.
The film touches on Islamic attitudes toward homosexuality and how they are or are not evolving in today's changing climate. Director and cast take us on a psychological journey and show how the strings attached may have to be broken in order to set one free. So, if you're up for forbidden love in an exotic locale, with handsome men and a stellar turn by a towering great lady of the cinema, catch "The String" at QFest, at the Ritz East, 125 South Second Street, on July 9 at 5 p.m., in Theater One, or 11 at 7:15 p.m., in Theater Two. Visit http://www.qfest.com for further information.