Three teenage girlfriends live in an apartment complex near Goulette beach in 1967, and during the summer they make a pact to lose their virginity. Meriem (Sonia Mankai) attracts the eye of her family’s aging landlord, while a persistent group of nervous teen boys flirt their way into the girls’ arms. When news of their increasingly bold behavior reaches their respective families (one is Jewish, another Muslim, and the third Catholic), fingers are pointed in every direction for their socially and religiously embarrassing activities.
A Summer In The Goulette is a coming-of-age tale based on Boughedir’s own childhood memories, a “quietly affecting” (Time Out Film Guide) tale of sexual awakening and multi-cultural misunderstanding. Shot in the warm amber glows of nostalgia, it beautifully captures the end of innocence.
eyelights: its portrayal of various courtship traditions. its message of religious tolerance and acceptance. the beautiful girls.
eyesores: the mildly contrived and abrupt ending.
‘Un été à La Goulette’ is a surprisingly sexy film about racial and religious tolerance. Set in Tunisia in the summer of 1966, just before the Six-Day War, it’s a slice of life look at the interactions of Catholics, Jews and Muslims, young and old, in La Goulette. It’s writer-director Férid Boughedir’s nostalgic look back at the sensuality of the culture before the rise of Islamic extremism.
In it, we follow the romantic entanglements of three teenaged girls, all of different backgrounds, over the course of a couple of days; together, they decide that they want to lose their virginity, and choose to do so with some of the older boys who flirt with them awkwardly. We also follow the friendship of their fathers, three old friends, and the impact these flirtations have on them.
What makes this picture fascinating are all the terrific discussions about the courtship traditions between Muslims and Christians (and even French Muslims and Tunisian Muslims), the cultural differences of each family (such as the food, their traditions and their dynamics), and even prejudice (politics is about
patriotism, not religion, one man says in defense of Jews during a heated discussion).
There are even telling, but mildly humourous discussions, such as when their spouses talk about each other’s husband’s mistresses like it’s common knowledge and commonplace – and even compare, taking pride in theirs being better than their friend’s (Honestly, on a personal level, I find this display extremely sad, but it’s also so surreal to me that it made me chuckle to some degree).
There were also a few quirky characters, like the homeless man with a makeshift radio who keeps listening to the political developments in the Middle East and updating everyone – but who always gets the antenna stolen by the local kids, or the woman who pretends to herself to be courted by a few dirty old men, or the man who cuts out patterns for a dress he’ll never make for anyone.
And yet this is also a relatively sexy picture: the landlord happens to see Meriem bathe while visiting her parents, the young men sneak glances at the other two girls toplessly rinsing each other at the beach, and even the girls and boys’ date night is sexy, dancing together and making out. Everything revolves around sex, even if the political backdrop takes precedence in certain key moments.
‘Un été à La Goulette’ is not just tolerance, but acceptance. It’s a picture that tells us that the bonds between people are more important than politics, religion and cultural differences: While the fathers nearly come to blows over their respective daughters’ mingling with the others’ sons, hypocritically expecting sexual and cultural purity of them, they eventually let their friendship overcome this.
Personally, I think that it’s a very beautiful film. Yes, its message is perhaps a bit idealistic, and granted the ending is far too contrived for my taste, but I believe that we need this type of film more than ever. We need a vision of love for ourselves, what with the growing hatred and intolerance around the world – and, especially, in our midst. A few day in La Goulette is the perfect antidote for that.
Date of viewing: March 5, 2016