Challat Tunis (Challat of Tunis). 2013. Tunisia/France/Canada/Qatar/UAE. Directed by Kaouther Ben Hania. 90 min.
In 2003, a man on a moped attacked 11 women on the streets of Tunis, cutting their buttocks to punish them for dressing immodestly. The perpetrator was never caught, and with the passage of time (and closed police files), the spree became the stuff of urban legend. A decade later, Ben Hania revisits the incidents, highlighting the misogyny in a society that is generally viewed as progressive within the region. Her search for the slasher, or “Challat,” acerbically weaves together fact and fiction; she juxtaposes a far-fetched virginity test, for example, with real, on-the-street testimonies from Tunisians intent on covering and controlling women’s bodies. The film’s handheld, investigative approach and dark humor effectively decry the treatment of women in Muslim societies while steering clear of victimization. When the laughs subside, reality is revealed to be both stranger and sadder than fiction. Thanks in part to theatrical releases in Tunisia and France, Ben Hania has a lot of people thinking.