Beautifully harsh and painfully emotive, the French-Arabic film Harka is an unsung gem of this year’s Glasgow Film Festival.
The title is both an idiom for fleeing illegally by boat and has a literal meaning of ‘to burn’. Both definitions are an apt title for this gritty and compassionate story.
The film follows a young Tunisian man, Ali, who is preparing to illegally flee Tunisia amidst the Arab Spring movement until family life and politics disrupts his plans. Harka is a realist movie, showing a turbulent life that could be experienced by any struggling individual or family in Tunisia during the revolution.
The film is inspired by the true story of Mohamed Bouazizi, the man whose death helped incite the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution and Arab Spring movement of the early 2010s.
Harka has a bizarre beauty that’s truly jarring with the reality of the plot. However, the juxtaposition has a flattering effect on the narrative. From Tunisia as a popular coastal holiday destination to Tunisia as an urban battle for survival.
Harka was also primarily shot in the Tunisian city Sidi Bouzid, where the Jasmine revolution began. The city is still under political turmoil, with the cast and crew witnessing demonstrations in the midst of filming as the Army removed the government from power.
UK born and US based Lotfy Nathan’s narrative directorial debut has done this tale an unfathomable amount of justice. Following the success of his documentary 12 O’clock Boys, Nathan has an undeniable talent for telling real, hard-hitting stories with sympathy, sophistication, and accuracy.
French-Tunisian actor Adam Bessa plays Ali, a casting choice that must be credited in making this film as fantastic as it is. The sweat on his neck, the dirt under his nails, and the flies lingering on his skin under the piercing hot sun: all elements contributing to his character shined. Bessa’s performance was tragically perfect, his emotions as raw and ruminative as the story he was enacting.
Whilst reading the plot synopsis, one may fear this film is another bout of trauma porn at the expense of the Global South. However, Nathan has created something sincere and radical. Harka is a revolutionary film that cannot be forgotten in a hurry.
Where can I watch it?
Harka is out in the UK May 5. It’s worth it.
The Glasgow Film Festival is running from March 1- 12. For more details, visit their website here.
Feature Image Credit: Dulac Distribution (France)