It’s no easy feat to discover a neglected take on Jewish persecution during World War II (arguably the most overexposed subject in cinematic history). So writer-director Karin Albou deserves high praise for mining the complexity of a friendship between Jewish teen Myriam (Brocheré) and her Muslim friend, Nour (Borval), in 1942 Tunisia. While a lesser filmmaker might be content to remain within the confines of corrosive zealotry, Albou proves her mettle by using religion as a conduit for exploring women’s issues.
The bond between the two young women is fawning and intense. Although they’re inseparable, Nour is envious of Myriam’s education; meanwhile, Myriam pines for the romance between the Muslim bride-to-be and her new fiancé. But once the Nazis arrive and polarize the community along ethnic lines, their relationship becomes the defining force in both characters’ lives—especially since the very faith-based traditions that supposedly give them refuge are full of prejudices and penalties toward women. Although the plotting and characterizations aren’t completely engaging, Albou’s film conjures an irresistibly evocative atmosphere of stifling limitations, as well as a frank view of the female body that vacillates between carnal, sacrificial and beatific. Its caustic beauty is hard to shake.