It Was Better Tomorrow (Ya man aach): Venice Review

Little has changed in post-revolutionary Tunisia seen through the eyes of a homeless woman in an offbeat, one-note documentary

Top Tunisian producers Habib Attia and Dora Bouchoucha team up for writer-director Hinde Boujemaa's unusual view on the revolution.

Another documentary that attempts to satisfy international curiosity about Tunisia after the fall of president Ben Ali in January 2011, It Was Better Tomorrow, comes from the producer of the striking doc No More Fear but takes the unusual, and not always trustworthy, p.o.v. of an uneducated homeless woman. From the perspective of Aida Kaabi, nothing much has changed following the revolution. She doesn’t come across as a very reliable witness, however, undercutting the film’s interest for many viewers.

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Two of Tunisia's best-known producers, Habib Attia and Dora Bouchoucha, joined hands on the film, which even though a minor work still has a bit of new information to add. The directing debut of screenwriter Hinde Boujemaa veers into quasi-narrative territory as it follows the middle-aged squatter Aida and her often violent teenage son Faouzi on their quest for a roof over their heads. In the opening scene they calmly break into an empty house, intending to squat it, but the owners appear and throw them out. No help is forthcoming from the ministry for social affairs, which is closed during the uprisings. Intermittently the protest demonstrations that are shaking the country make a hesitant appearance, but they are clearly not the film’s main subject.

Due to her status as a social outsider, Aida is perhaps able to be more outspoken in her criticism of the post-revolutionary government than others could be. When she laments that for the very poor like herself, nothing has changed, no housing has appeared, the police are still beating those they arrest to extract false confessions, the message does hit home.

But when she says she’s afraid the clerics will sentence her slow-minded, kleptomaniac son to death, there is much room for doubt. Indeed, Faouzi ends up in prison for stealing a cell phone, but his situation doesn’t seem very dire. Of course elections are yet to come.

Boujemaa has no qualms about using Aida’s expressive face and urge to communicate. In an uncomfortable scene that seems to invade her privacy, she weeps as she remembers her abusive father and truncated childhood. Finally she’s revealed to have three more kids who live in a children’s shelter. Because of her precarious living conditions, she is only allowed to see them occasionally, like a happy day they spend together on the beach. The film’s tone is fairly one-note, adding a sense of numbness to Aida’s past, present and future.

Venue: Venice Film Festival, Sept. 4, 2012.

Production companies: Cinetelefilms, Nomadis Images
Director: Hinde Boujemaa
Screenwriter: Hinde Boujemaa
Producers: Habib Attia, Dora Bouchoucha
Directors of photography: Mehdi Bouhiel, Hatem Nechi, Siwar Ben Hassine
Editors: Naima Bachiri, Mehdi M. Barsaoui
Sales Agent: Swipe Films
No rating, 72 minutes.