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London Film Festival Review: Beauty and the Dogs – “Flawless and harrowing and so important”

Beauty and the Dogs (Aala Kaf Ifrit) follows a woman in Tunisia through a painfully long night as she tries to press charges against the police officers who have just raped her.

The rape itself is unseen which is a stroke of genius by writer/director Kaouther Ben Hania as the act itself is not the focus here. In a country where women live in dorms and there are laws to punish those caught in acts of ‘indecency’, this is a horrific look at a system set out to do everything but help a woman who’s been sexually assaulted. The various people she goes to for help discuss the dress she has on, that she was walking with a man who wasn’t her husband, that she will bring shame on her family if she goes ahead with pressing charges… The list is endless and every possible reason against her is shouted at her throughout the duration of the film. And yet she persists, long after many women would have abandoned their fight because the ordeal is just too much.

It’s not just that these people don’t believe her. As the film progresses, the inference, so far as I understood it, was that they did believe her but that she somehow brought it on herself and should just go home and stop making a fuss. The male friend with her is also held accountable by the police because – according to them – if he were a real man, he should have stopped them.

Then, in the moments where she loses her cool, cries, screams, does any of the many things you would expect from someone who’s just been raped, they accuse her of being dramatic or having a breakdown. When she’s too calm, they say there’s nothing wrong with her.

Apart from a couple of people who seem to show her a (limited) amount of empathy, the majority of people she encounters look at her as nothing more than a huge inconvenience. She doesn’t explain herself quickly enough. She’s keeping them from going home to their families. Basically, she’s creating more work for them and they massively resent her for it.

Mariam Al Ferjani shows immense talent as the woman, especially given the performance needed for such a role. She is even more impressive when you note that each of the nine sections of the film are single-take sequences, never lulling and consistently packed full of raw emotional drama and intensity.

Beauty and the Dogs is not an easy watch, by any stretch, but it is an essential one, flawless and harrowing and so, so important. This is bold and daring work from both Ben Hania and Al Ferjani about a topic that is relevant throughout the world.

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