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Satin Rouge
By Kam Williams

Published March 30, 2006

Nowadays, the West, quite understandably, has an obsession with the Middle East. While most of our attention is on patently political and religious issues, one still can’t help but wonder what life is like for the unliberated ladies of the Arab world, so hidden, repressed and denied. One would suspect that Muslim females might be unhappy about the assorted limitations placed on them as a matter of course by a culture that relegates them to second-class status. 

            By contrast, one would expect that America’s relatively permissive, “anything goes” celebration of gender equality would generate the polar opposite results. Yet curiously, this country also seems to exert pressures of its own toward uniformity, albeit of a different sort. The upshot of our orientation is the identifiable, generic feminine icon as currently embodied in the hyper-sexualized Britney Spears or the self-indulgent, narcissistic Anna Nicole Smith. Young American girls judge one another by the way they look and dress, and have a tendency to value or devalue themselves to the degree that they measure up against this supposedly ideal type. 

            Might there be an irresistible imperative, similar to the urge to reproduce, which practically impels girls toward certain behavior? And if so, is that behavior determined by nature or by nurture? For the Arab counterpoint to the American view, consider Satin Rouge, a daring drama that addresses how a wanton woman copes with a strict social structure that would deny her any outlet for her animalistic urges. This unexpectedly engaging film was directed by 31-year-old Raja Amari, a feminist expatriate from Tunisia now living in Paris.

            The story, set in the cosmopolitan city of Tunis, revolves around Lilia (Hiyam Abbas), a middle-aged seamstress who has dutifully dedicated her life to protecting the virtue of her teenage daughter, Salma (Hend El Fahem). Out of respect for her husband’s memory, the homely-looking widow is otherwise resigned to living out her days alone. The fun starts when the attractive Salma turns into a typically rebellious teen and fails to return home by the established curfew. Suspecting that the girl might have sunk to the utterly depraved depths of belly-dancing, Allah forbid, her meddling mom starts scouring the netherworld of crude, Casbah cabarets for a sign of her sinful offspring. What Lilia doesn’t know is that Salma has fallen in love, another no-no, but is nowhere near these disgraceful dens of iniquity.

            However, all the dirty dancing she’s observed leaves Lilia a little lascivious. Soon, her own suppressed sexual appetite, long simmering, is suddenly reinvigorated. Desirous of ex

(In Arabic with subtitles)

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

 

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