As I Open My Eyes is a 2015 coming of age movie directed and co-written by Tunisian film maker Leyla Bouzid. The action takes place in Tunis, just before the revolutionary Arab Spring of protests kicked off in Tunisia in 2011.

Farah (Baya Medhaffar) is 18, wealthy, confident, rebellious, very pretty and naive. She has a protective mother, Hayet, who is focused on her daughter’s glittering academic prospects, and a father who works away from home, managing troubled phosphate mines in Ghafsa.

Farah is not keen to fulfil her family’s expectations and train as a doctor. Instead, she sings (fairly badly to my ears!) in a band, Joujma, and is swept away by her romance with the cool but kinda gittish lute-player Borhene (Montassar Ayari) – she drinks and dances in male-dominated bars, smokes and makes out in the bushes.

She reminded me a bit of a young Siouxsie Sioux, while the music was a mix of lyrics full of political rebellion crossed with more traditional rhythms (with music by renowned Iraqi oud player Khyam Allami). The band’s often dangerous themes, though, ultimately attract unwanted attention from the police.

Baya Medhaffar’s performance makes the film, which sometimes veers into melodrama, while the plot line often covers familiar ground. I found the movie was interesting for the way it evoked the febrile atmosphere of 2010 Tunisia.

It also effectively portrays the challenges that come with being young and female in a highly conservative country (although Medhaffar has been quoted as saying that “I feel the same when I walk on the streets in Tunisia or in Paris”), and the difficulty of balancing the roles of a daughter and of a teenager yearning to spread her wings and grab her independence, both artistically and romantically.

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  1. I love Tunisia as a country, I’ve been twice and felt so at home there (I have some Spanish heritage and feel we might date back to North Africa ultimately as I feel very connected to certain cities there). I’m really sad we can’t go back at the moment.

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