February 12, 2016 / 5:31 PM / 2 years ago

Tunisian film 'Hedi' brings Arabic-language sex scenes to Berlin

Cast members Rym Ben Messaoud, Sabah Bouzouita (2nd R) Majd Mastoura (L) director Mohamed Ben Attia (C) and producer Dora Bouchoucha Fourati (R) pose during a photocall to promote the movie 'Inhebbek Hedi' at the 66th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 12, 2016.Fabrizio Bensch

BERLIN (Reuters) - "Inhebbek Hedi", the story of a love triangle that includes sex scenes unusual for an Arabic-language film, became the first Tunisian film shown in international competition in two decades when it screened on Friday at the Berlin film festival.

Director Mohamed Ben Attia said he was proud his work had been chosen for the honor of competing for the festival's top prize, the Golden Bear.

"I'd be very happy if there were more Arab films, but actually I don't really care - I want good films to be shown here," Attia said at a post-screening news conference.

Set just after the Tunisians ousted the dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, the film centers on the character of Hedi, played by Majd Mastoura, who works in a dead-end job as a new-car salesman.

He is sent to work in new territory at the seaside resort of Mahdia days before his wedding, after an engagement closely managed by his overbearing mother, played by Sabah Bouzouita.

Business is slow, leaving him at loose ends at the resort. He strikes up a relationship that turns into a romance with Rim, a tourist-guide-cum dancer, played by Rym Ben Messaoud.

Cast members Rym Ben Messaoud, Sabah Bouzouita (2nd R) Majd Mastoura (R) and director Mohamed Ben Attia (L) pose during a photocall to promote the movie 'Inhebbek Hedi' at the 66th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 12, 2016.Fabrizio Bensch

The sex scenes that ensue would not have caused much problem in decency-code American films of the 1940s and 50s. But they might raise eyebrows in the Arab world.

"Tunisian cinema is known for its daring," Dora Bouchoucha Fourati, the film's producer, said.

The film makes only occasional references to the events of 2011 and its aftermath. Attia said that was done deliberately, to better portray how everyday life had changed -- and not changed -- in years after the uprising.

"The thing which I found so interesting right after the Arab Spring happened was just that sort of discovery -- who are we?" he said.

"We are people who are the cousins, the neighbors, dealing with religion, and this is the slow way in which emancipation is happening, also for Hedi in the film."

(Story refiled to reword headline)

Editing by Larry King

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