QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM LOCARNO
There is a great sadness at the core of Streams, as well as a great anger. Depicting a nation in tatters, it constantly surprises and delights despite telling such a dark and difficult tale. The Tunisian system comes across as completely broken and corrupted by a mixture of high hypocrisy and rank misogyny, but the Tunisian people themselves are captured with great resilience and warmth, making for a film that both saddens and inspires. Either way, it announces second-feature Mehdi Hmili as a great talent to watch.
It starts off in a very unassuming fashion, with the young Moumen (Iheb Bouyahya, in a stunning debut) preparing for a football game. He plays in goal and has great dreams of signing for a huge club. His mother Amel (Afef Ben Mahmoud) is incredibly overprotective of her son, going into a minor breakdown when she notices he has pierced his ear. She is right to worry about her son; his father is a full-time resident at the local pub, downing endless beers while hoping that his bets will finally come in. The warning signs are there — all you need is a toxic society and the whole thing can easily fall apart.
It’s really worth knowing as little as possible going in, only that it’s filled with nasty and potentially-triggering moments, taking us on a mother-son odyssey that lays bare the patriarchal, gangster-filled reality of Tunis life. You sense the same post-Arab spring energy that animated the similarly potent Capernaum (Nadine Labaki, 2018). Streams simply fulfils the classic definition of a great film: several great scenes while the rest simply works. It realises that imbuing a film so dark and often depressing with real humanity and joy is not only necessary, but can actually help to deepen the stakes. After all no country, not even the most broken states or brutal dictatorships, is without its joyous moments. In a very strange way, the approach to storytelling actually reminded me of A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper, 2018) in the way it brings out nuanced acting performances throughout while also bringing real cinematic credentials through fantastic musical sequences.
Veteran actress Mahmoud provides incredible work as a mother constantly making difficult decisions, speaking volumes with just a downward glance or a blink of the eyes. Newcomer Bouyahya is a pretty Timothée Chalamet-type, easily able to hold our attention whether he’s fighting or in the throes of romance. The film cuts between both mother and son at fascinating moments, creating a parallel tension that kept me riveted throughout.
Midway through one dancing scene, the film suddenly changes to widescreen. It’s the kind of move that can come off as pretentious in the hands of a lesser director, but an awesome flex in the hands of someone in command of their work. It’s a bit like watching Ronaldo pull off an extra stopover or Salah — the great hope of North Africa briefly referenced in the film — feinting before bursting into another direction. It’s all the more engaging considering how quietly the film starts. I was expecting a few roman candles and came away dazzled by an immense firework show.
Streams plays in Concorso Cineasti del presente at Locarno Film Festival, running from August 4th to 15th.