“National Hymen” in the Mediterranean Film Festival
Tunis – Nabil Zaghdoud
Belgian director Gamal Al-Mokni, who is of Tunisian origin, has participated in the 17th edition of the Mediterranean Film Festival in Rome, which celebrates the Arab Spring revolutions. Tunisia
was represented by the attendance of director Ragaa Al-‘Emary, who directed “Al Setar Al-Ahmar” (The Red Curtain); director Murad Bin Sheikh, who wrote the film “La Khawf Ba’ad Al-Yawm” (No Fear as of Today); in addition to director Gamal Al-Mokni with his controversial film “Gheshaa Al-Bikara Al-Watani – Tawa’aok Fel Islam” (National Hymen - Malaise in Islam), which was recently screened at the festival. Organisers said that they “did not miss the opportunity to shed light on the events of the Arab spring, where Egypt and Tunisia participate in the 17th round as Honorary guests.”
“National Hymen” explicitly discusses hymen reconstruction surgery (or hymenoplasty), which Tunisian girls and women who have lost their virginity before marriage resort to. The topic is taboo in Tunisia, as society still views “virginity” as the “the real capital and commodity which proves the chastity and integrity of a woman, physically and morally.”
Al-Mokni proclaimed before members of the Italian media that he “needed three years to prepare for the shooting of this documentary film”, saying that he “travelled across the country from North to South without any official permits, met many women, and men as well, who decided to talk about their experience in front of camera”.
He explained “I ventured into the woman’s world and the private space between a husband and wife, a mother and her children, to not only address those who reject the issue, but also to address those who are for it, in an attempt to understand the extent of women suffering from such tribal customs. Such a thing is unforgivable in Tunisia”, he continued “Women have the right to live their sexual experience to the fullest… nobody still marries at thirteen, but the average age now is rather twenty eight”.
He said: “How can girls have the patience to wait till the age of marriage? Sexual relationships are the most natural things on Earth, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. However, in spite of this, it seems difficult to rid of such mentality."
“National Hymen” was filmed during the rule of the former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and was banned as soon as it was out. It was also subject to censorship during its presentation at the Carthage Film Festival in 2010, in addition to it being shown in a semi-secret fashion in Egypt after changing its title.
The film has been the subject of criticism wherever it was shown, including European countries (France and Belgium), where the Muslim community has not accepted it as it deals with a “taboo issue that is not to be discussed publicly.”