Under the Fig Trees offers a poetic glimpse into a day in the life of teenage fruit pickers in northwest Tunisia. Directed by Erige Sehiri in her narrative feature debut, this observational drama chronicles a group of young workers as they labor during the fig harvest, all the while navigating friendships, relationships, and societal expectations.
We follow these teenagers, mostly young women, as their old crushes and new flirtations unfold against the backdrop of the orchard. Sehiri recruited talented non-professional actors from the region, including the charismatic Fidé Fdhili in a central role. Their expressiveness and natural chemistry bring warmth and authenticity to the film.
While little overt drama occurs, Sehiri and cinematographer Frida Marzouk use intimate camerawork to capture all the subtle interactions and telling conversations. Their documentary background lends an organic, cinéma vérité feel even though fictionalized. Moments of playfulness and tension emerge organically from the rhythms of rural life.
With its loose narrative and lyrical visual poetry, Under the Fig Trees offers an understated yet emotionally resonant glimpse into the inner and outer worlds of Tunisian youth. Sehiri transcends the mundane to reveal the hopes, fears, and timeless complexities of young adulthood.
Exploring Womanhood in Rural Tunisia
At its core, Under the Fig Trees is an exploration of womanhood in contemporary rural Tunisia. We experience this world through the perspectives of girls and women at different stages of life – from flirtatious teenagers to aging matriarchs. Their conversations touch on gender roles, generational divides, and tensions between tradition and modernity.
Sehiri brings a documentary sensibility to capturing these complex social dynamics. With mostly non-professional actors, she creates an intimate, cinéma vérité atmosphere. The camera trails the women as they work, eavesdropping on gossip sessions and heated debates. Sehiri choreographs a delicate dance between labor and personal drama.
The film’s observational style serves the authenticity of the performances and conversations. We gain fly-on-the-wall insights into how societal expectations and sexual mores impact young women in this setting. Outspoken characters like Fidé shine as they challenge traditional norms.
Music also plays a key role in the film. A melancholic song from an older worker contrasts vividly with the girls singing pop songs in the truck. The lyrics poetically underscore generational perspectives, and the blend of tunes reflects the intersection of the traditional and modern.
With its documentarian’s lens, moving musical interludes, and many moments of lyrical beauty, Under the Fig Trees provides a textured mosaic of womanhood in rural Tunisia. We intimately understand these women’s realities and what many of them are up against – as well as their solidarity, friendships, and care for one another underneath it all.
A core strength of Under the Fig Trees lies in its talented cast of non-professional actors. Most were locals from the region where the film was shot. Their authenticity and expressiveness lend the film remarkable emotional intimacy.
As the central character Fidé, Fidé Fdhili makes an astonishing debut. With her loose, flowing hair and flirtatious confidence, she magnetizes as a young woman bucking social conformity. Fdhili’s screen charisma and attitude make Fidé leap off the screen.
Equally impressive is Feten Fdhili as Fidé’s younger sister Melek. With her large, longing eyes, Feten movingly conveys Melek’s sensitivity and romantic yearnings. The interplay between the sisters provides some of the film’s most poignant moments about the societal limitations placed on Tunisian girls.
The supporting cast exudes equally organic charm, like the joyful Ameni Fdhili as Sana or the soulful Leila Ouhebi as the lamenting elder Leila. Sehiri found the alchemy and balance needed from her non-professional discoveries.
These transportive performances enable us to intimately understand the hopes, heartbreaks, and realities of rural young women in Tunisia. Their expressiveness and rapport make the film blossom with emotional truth. We walk for a short while in their shoes.
Conversations in the Orchard
Rather than following a traditional plot, Under the Fig Trees opts for loose, observational storytelling that mirrors its cinéma vérité style. We drift through snippets of conversation and fleeting interactions, gradually gaining insight into relationships and inner lives.
There is no overriding conflict, yet minor moments of drama organically emerge from the rhythms of rural life and labor. Tensions surface between friends, jealousies spark, and subtle power dynamics play out between workers based on age and gender.
Sehiri balances such dramatic interludes with stretches focusing on mundane talk and everyday gossip. We hear both idle chatter and revealing confidences. The ordinary and extraordinary intermingle, just as they do in real life.
The strength of the film lies in these candid conversations between vibrant characters. We are flies on the wall, understanding rural Tunisian youth culture through its colloquialisms, preoccupations, and insecurities.
Both the mundane and dramatic conversations blend into an eloquent mosaic of modern young adulthood in this setting. We organically get to know these characters and their social milieu through the film’s everyday storytelling. Their love-lives, friendships, and relationship to tradition fill in before our eyes.
Cinematographer Frida Marzouk deserves immense credit for the visual poetry achieved in Under the Fig Trees. Shooting in natural light, she bathes the film in the gorgeous Tunisian sunlight. Her camerawork toggles between languorous wide shots of the countryside and more dynamic close-ups amidst the leaves.
Marzouk often goes handheld, trailing the women through tall grass and between the trees. This grounded approach places us right alongside the characters, capturing fleeting expressions and furtive gestures. She sticks to the emotions and movements at hand rather than emphasizing flashy camera technique.
Yet the beauty comes through. Shots of sunlight dappling through branches feel classic and timeless. Marzouk masters using backlight and lens flare for painterly effect. Her compositions frame characters against the gnarled shapes of woody fig branches in graphical harmony.
By focusing so intimately on her subjects, Marzouk’s lensing choices further the film’s interpersonal themes and fly-on-the-wall atmosphere. We perceive delicate shifts of expression and changes of mood in the characters’ faces.
Above all, Marzouk profoundly captures the orchard as a setting – the textures, sights and feel of this place overflow with sensuality. She photographs it with care and lyricism until it becomes like a character itself. We come away with memories and sensations embedded deep thanks to her images.
A Lyricism That Lingers
With Under the Fig Trees, Erige Sehiri demonstrates immense promise as a rising cinematic voice. Her observational style and gift with actors recalls humanist greats like Satyajit Ray in capturing the poetry of ordinary life.
Sehiri distills something pure and affecting from quiet moments in a rural Tunisian orchard. She creates an oasis where we access the truth of young women’s experiences and perspectives in this culture. Their conversations reveal universal rites of youth and passage towards adulthood.
The film flows with an organic lyricism. Imagery, music, and intimate exchanges blend into a sensory and emotional feast. We are left with indelible impressions of people and place.
Under the Fig Trees deserves celebration for its honesty and lack of judgment towards traditions or modernity. Sehiri sees the humanity in all her characters as they navigate complex social dynamics. She reveals more similarities than differences between the generations.
With its loose narrative and penetrating character insights, this is a film to soak in rather than intensely follow. Its images and sensations will linger like the sweet nectars enjoyed under the foliage. Sehiri captures ephemeral yet profound moments that accumulate into a resonant mosaic of womanhood, sisterhood, and the ties that bind.
Under the Fig Trees
With its sun-dappled imagery and cinéma vérité intimacy, Under the Fig Trees offers a tone poem about the hopes and realities of young womanhood in contemporary Tunisia. Director Erige Sehiri successfully captures the lyrical poetry in seemingly ordinary rural lives through this graceful ode to friendship, love, and the female experience.
- Authentic performances and intimate character-driven storytelling
- Evocative visuals and cinematography that beautifully capture the natural Tunisian setting
- Lyrical and poetic approach to depicting womanhood in rural Tunisia
- Powerful conversations exploring societal expectations of young women
- Sensitive direction that brings honesty to generational perspectives
- Very loose narrative that some viewers may find meandering or aimless
- Ending that could feel anti-climactic for those expecting plot-driven drama
- Slow pacing that demands patience from the audience