As I write this, the film Dashra is still on screen in a large number of cinemas in the Republic, still enjoying very good audience figures and generating very respectable revenues. It also arouses the interest of many artists in Tunisia and is subject to the evaluation of various creators. This film is a pioneer in Tunisia in the production of horror films, which are considered to be the most difficult films to write and produce.
The work tells the story of Yasmine, a journalism student who, with her colleagues Bilal and Aziz, is trying to solve a mysterious crime that occurred 25 years ago. The crime is linked to the appearance of an injured woman in the middle of a road, and their investigation leads them to a small isolated village, Dashra, in the middle of the forest. Yasmine and her companions feel trapped in the forest and terrified, so they try to escape from there.
Screenwriter and director Abdelhamid Bouchnak, gives an interesting start to the film by detailing the situation and maintaining the dramatic rhythm from the beginning of the journalistic investigation to its tragic conclusion. The problem with the film is not that it deals with a subject that has lived and coexisted with the Tunisian people for many years - a ridiculous belief that can lead in some cases to murder and mutilation - but that it does so with too much passion and exaggeration. But well, it is true that it manages to frighten the spectators and make them feel adrenaline rush.
The general development of the story is good and the scriptwriter manages to weave a chain of events that the audience follows from beginning to end, but as the plot progresses, other enigmas appear in addition to child abduction and treasure hunting by a criminal group (an experience that Tunisians have lived through and that would have led to killings*): the consumption of the flesh of the kidnapped people, cannibalism. Here, we meet the limits of the scenario, but the beauty of the image and the speed of the plot allow us to remain interested.
The main character is considered the central point of the film, and it is admirable that the choice of the performer was not made on the basis of beauty criteria or years of professional experience. Yasmine suffers from a psychological disorder and leads us to ask ourselves many questions from the beginning. And the interest in finding answers to these questions makes you enter the film and focus on its plot.
Yasmine is a normal Tunisian student, who could be found on the street or in a subway station, in a restaurant or in a café. She is a character with a limited circle of relationships, and she clings to her grandfather, her only parent, and her friends Bilal and Aziz. It is therefore a very realistic example of the typical Tunisian student who lives with her grandfather in a house in the capital. However, the protagonist does not succeed in provoking the degree of fear expected, nor does she cause us to panic.
According to Rudolf Arnheim, who said that in a good film, each sequence contributes to the action, a problem with this work is that there are scenes in the script for which there is no interpretation, such as "Monjia's suicide", around which the film revolves. Moreover, in another scene, Aziz is surprised to find recordings on his camera before we know he is part of the criminal group, as if the writer wanted to take us away from the outcome of the film we were expecting, and then surprise us with the same end we had already anticipated.
The scriptwriter is able to slip from "real" funny situations through the tense relationship between the two journalist friends, but every time there is a funny situation, he brings us out of the harmony of the plot of the film, whose nature is that of a horror film. And the terrible expectations that the film places in our imagination and the feeling of fear, he then destroys them with a comic scene to have to rebuild them later. In any case, it must be said that film photography has a very professional level and plays a fundamental role in the success of the film.
Overall, I think this film is a very good attempt to produce a Tunisian horror film, a genre considered the most difficult to make and write. Moreover, he manages to tackle a subject that is part of the tales and legends of Tunisian culture that must be fought, even if he does so by falling into exaggeration.
(*) In Tunisia, there was a belief that if you killed a child with a black spot in his eye, a spirit would tell you where to find a treasure.