Rouge Parole—The Art of Documenting the Tunisian Revolution
“A film about the Revolution, yes, but more so a film about Mankind”
-Elyes Baccar, director.
As part of the 2011 Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montreal, or RIDM, Rouge Parole is a much-anticipated documentary that made its North American premiere at the Cinerobotheque on November 15th. Tunisian director, Elyes Baccar, artfully tells the story of his home country’s civil resistance movement that, starting in December 2011, led to the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and his party’s long-standing rule.
The line between an artistic retelling of a deeply emotional political story and an ideologically motivated artwork is very fine. With Rouge Parole, however, Elyes Baccar walks that line beautifully. Earnestly filming such polemic events, without the final outcome being polemic itself, is no easy task. Filmed across the nation seen as the birthplace of the Arab Spring, with no authorisation whatsoever, shooting under the guise of “Facebook TV”, Baccar provides a 94-minute in-depth look at Tunisia post-uprising.
From the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi (the “spark” of the Revolution) to Ben Ali’s final speech before fleeing the country, up until interim leader Ghannouchi’s resignation, Rouge Parole jumps around chronologically. It shows raw footage from the demonstrations, but also interviews individuals from villages like Thala in the Kasserine, who were largely ignored by the media. Looking to tell the story of the Tunisian uprising, and its people as a whole, the film gracefully captures the uncertainty, emotion, and power of a movement that brought an entire country, and debatably the whole world, into new, uncharted, political terrain.
Rouge Parole sheds light on aspects of the revolution that are hard to understand without an on-the-ground perspective. The scenes recalling the police force protest are particularly poignant. Little highlights the change of times better than when police officers wave their badges in dissent on the main avenues of the capital city alongside the general population.
Mixing eerie scenes of close-ups of broken palace windows, with shots of bullet and graffiti covered city walls; Rouge Parole is poetic in the way in which it slowly reveals the different chapters of the movement. Baccar’s personal shooting style allows the audience to truly connect with those on the screen, subtly showing the complex range of emotions felt by those at the heart of the movement.
Coupling these scenes with insights into the lives of those most affected, such as the mothers and families of the martyrs, makes for a touching film—that goes without saying. Cinematographic beauty aside, Rouge Parole remains level headed and informative; seeking to show the reality of an uprising the likes of which Tunisia had never seen. When journalists are interviewed and asked how they feel about finally being able to write what they—and not the regime—want, the frustration and fear of not knowing how to actually do so is palpable.
In a question and answer session following the viewing, Baccar tells the audience that one of his goals was to show what had not yet been shown about the uprising. A particularly strong example are the scenes along the Tunisian-Libyan border where Tunisian citizens are seen baking thousands of loaves of bread to give to the refugees of the war in Libya, in solidarity with their struggle. These are stories that were sparsely, if even at all, covered by the [western] media but that help explain the atmosphere and the feeling on the ground during the tumultuous months of the Arab Spring.
Elyes Baccar’s Rouge Parole is very much a Tunisian film. The fact that it is the director’s first major production in his home country is definitely felt in the level of emotion seen on screen. With the Tunisian premiere slated for the end of November, it will surely have an immense impact, fulfilling the role, in Baccar’s words, of a “mirror” for the people. It will allow those that lived these events to revisit them not only in memory, but by making sure one of the great popular uprisings of our time is not erased as easily as the graffiti on the walls of the deposed government’s buildings.
– Alexandre Moon