Aicha (Rabia Ben Abdallah) is the matron who starts the domino effect. After being married to Said (Ezzedine Gennoun) for some time, she decides she doesn't want to wait for the one month of the year that he returns, as is the custom of the village. Said finally relents that if she bears him a son, the family will move to the city with him. It's the dream of every woman in the village, each wife takes turns to joyfully brag about it even knowing the chances it will actually happen are slim.
She bears two healthy girls, Meriem (Ghania Benali) and Emna (Hend Sabri), and finally a son, Aziz (Adel Hergal). But after having moved to be close to Said, it becomes apparent that Aziz has health problems, and Aicha is blamed for this. Now, even more estranged from Said, Aicha decides to move back home with her daughters in tow.
But Aicha finds it difficult to keep close tabs on her growing daughters. Meriem is married but can't seem to provide her husband with sex whereas Emna sleeps with a married man and doesn't acknowledge tradition at all.
This setup could have become a gripping story of women coming into independent power, but it falls short of the mark by concentrating too much on flashbacks to drive cultural difficulties home. Again and again we see Aicha fight with her overbearing, power-hungry mother-in-law for the rights of her daughters. And when these scenes aren't taking over, there's always a cryptic "character looking in the mirror" shot right around the corner.
It is regrettable that the story doesn't focus more on interaction between Aicha and her daughters in the present. After all, Aicha has chosen to drag them away from their lives, due to Aziz's constant need for care. Instead of elaborating on how these women are becoming different from their predecessors, it repetitively concentrates on scenes of feminine claustrophobia within the community.
Still, there are beautifully poignant moments to this film. Each character is able to shine through a mixture of emotions. Watching Aicha stand up for her rights during especially emotional scenes demands respect for her decisions, even when they are fallible. Emna is allowed a strong, simple exploration of what she's learned when she tells her married lover that she never wants to marry. The overall strength of these women is articulated well through being three-dimensional instead of perfect icons.
The men are thankfully not seen as completely tyrannical, which is unusual for a film about female empowerment. For the most part they are simply following tradition, and some are open to allowing women more space.
The cultural details can also be refreshing, such as how these women prepare for their men with henna. It is interesting to see how every person in a given family has a specific task no matter their skill. Aziz is a young boy with health problems, but he is put to work weaving carpets.
The Season of Men is a unique cultural study of gradual feminine growth within a strict community. Though it has its share of misses, it is still a positive and reflexive look at a people much ignored.
Aka La saison des hommes.
The season of washing dishes.
Run time: 122 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 27th December 2000
Distributed by: Cowboy Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 8 Rotten: 2
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Moufida Tlatli
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