Dir.: Nejib Belkadhi; Cast: Nejib Belkadhi, Souhir Ben Amara; Tunisia 2021, 95 min.
A man in emotional meltdown during the early months of the pandemic is the focus of this surreal and intensely intimate indie feature from Tunisian writer/director Nejib Belkadhi (Bastardo).
The brilliant black-and-white of DoP Hazem Berrabah, framed in the old-fashioned 4:3, portray a slow-burning but intricate story of a couple’s very different reaction to Covid-19 that lead to the shifting dynamic in their relationship.
In Tunis Kais (Belkadhi) and Sara (Ben Amara) live in a stylish modern flat. Sara is busy organising the local lockdown after restrictions begin to bite: she is permanently on the move whereas Kais is stuck at home suspended from work without pay, and afraid of losing his job. With a history of mental problems he needs to take anti-psychotic drugs – well he should be taking them – but prefers to smoke marihuana, against his psychiatrist’s advice. While slowly adapting to the new modus vivendi he turns his attentions to environmental issues, convincing himself that mankind needs to be punished for its destruction of the planet. Soon Kais starts getting ‘messages’ from his mobile, telling him to get ready to start his ‘mission’ and he intends to embrace the cause.
Meanwhile, the family intrudes on his covert plans: his mother is finding the restrictions tough, and his sister wants Kais to take care of her at his flat. And then Sara reveals she is pregnant, despite their agreement not to have kids so she pretends to have an abortion to keep the peace.
But Kais’ state of mind is gradually deteriorating, with disastrous results that seem to accentuate his submissive personality in emotional scenes that see him drawn to the sea, magnetically obsessed by an octopus-like plant, which hovers in the sky.
Making the best use of a limited budget and to accentuate the sense of intimacy, the feature was filmed in the claustrophobic confines of the director’s own apartment, his pet cat Faouzi, stealing the limelight from the human protagonists. Souhir Ben Amara literally lived round the corner, to complete a realistic environment. Belkadhi shows Kais’ relationship with Sara changing from an adult rapport to something entirely different. Maudlin and highly intriguing, COMMUNION is a perfect example of a success feature made on a financial shoestring.
SCREENING DURING THE RED SEA FILM FESTIVAL 2021