'Hedi': Seattle International Film Festival movie review
The quiet and pensive drama "Hedi" (screening at the 43rd Seattle International Film Festival) is a strong showcase for its lead actor, who gives a soulful and understated performance worthy of acclaim.
In short: As a quiet, withdrawn young salesman stuck in a job he hates prepares for an arranged marriage, Hedi (Majd Mastoura) meets a free spirited and adventurous woman (Rym Ben Messaoud) who makes him question his life of conformity.
Most of the first act challenges the audiences patience. The titular character is a man of few words who just seems to go through the paces of daily life. His job is uninspiring. His mother is overbearing. His life is, by all appearances, quite unremarkable. Any audience member cannot be faulted for wondering "what exactly is this movie about" for much of the first act. But that is the subtle brilliance of the first act: it presents everything Hedi quietly resents and reluctantly accepts. It's only through the quiet, fleeting moments where Hedi reveals his muted passions and his unhappiness with his controlled and routine existence.
"Hedi" handles its main characters with an empathetic touch. Yes Hedi's mother and brother appear intrusive and controlling, but each of them have their own understandable reasons for interfering so thoroughly in Hedi's life. And Hedi himself is a dimensional character who remains utterly relatable - even when he makes some "questionable" decisions as an engaged man only days away from his wedding. Taken at face value, his choice could be summarily judged harshly. But "Hedi" presents its protagonist in an ever empathetic light - not that it condones his actions, but the film at least allows the audience to understand his choices on some level.
Mastoura deserves credit for his lead performance. He is the antithesis of melodrama. His character is withdrawn in his soul-crushing life as a car salesman -- but then he shines with a subdued vitality as an aspiring artist who has found his soulmate. His soulful and wistful performance perfectly sets the film's tone.
Final verdict: Director Mohamed Ben Attia handles this story with a light and humane touch to craft a pained, emotionally mature and internally conflicted story with universal themes. "Hedi" is not "film as art" or "film as entertainment" - this is "film as life."
"Hedi" screens at the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival. This Tunisian drama is unrated and has a running time of 88 minutes.