Director: Ferid Boughedir
Starring: Sonia Mankai, Ava Cohen-Jonathan, Sarah Pariente
An obscure foreign film set in Tunisia and delivered in three languages, A Summer in La Goulette is a 20-year-old, under-the-radar gem that no one has seen but everyone can relate to. More than anything, it is a story of looking back and growing up, of nostalgia for a time and a place that was more fleeting than you knew when you were living in the moment, more fragile than any memory has the right to be. Although very specific in its location and time, the tale could relate to any one of us, to those who remember hormonal days spent under the sun, when the entire world seemed to be opening up right in front of you, if you could just find the courage to reach out and grasp it.
In 1967, the beach of La Goulette, in Tunis, Tunisia, was the place the world came together to share the sun and to share its culture. Jews, Arabs, Christians, African, French, Italian; it didn’t matter where you were from, what religion you followed, what food you ate, what politics your home country was embroiled in, or if you had lived on La Goulette all your life, summer was the season for tourists and locals, people from all over, to come together and enjoy. This is the snapshot story of three very different families who all share a love for one way of life, and who can see past the unique traits they all possess to the common core that lies within.
Each family has an elder daughter who is now a woman, with boys and dreams and futures on the mind, but also with a view that today is a day that needs living, even if it might lead to trouble. Younger sons frolic about the city, and a group of young men follow the daughters around, hoping for a glimpse or a word or a dance, or perhaps something more. Fathers worry about their families and their reputations, while mothers worry about what will come of their headstrong girls who aren’t little any longer. Round and round they all go over the course of a summer, coming of age and growing too old and watching the world spin past them, all at once and all together.
A Summer in La Goulette is a simple, pleasant experience with a lot to say about maturity, sexuality, responsibility, and life. It’s a nostalgic look back at summers on the beach, trysts with life-long friends, how your path can change so quickly, and how some things always stay the same. Even though it’s specific to a time and place, we can all relate to an exciting vacation where we had a memorable kiss, or an event that showed us that we were growing up, or a youthful experience that we knew we would never forget. And from the parents’ perspective, we all understand the fear of watching something leave our control, of worrying about what tomorrow will bring, and never knowing quite where you stand. It’s a story that both transports us to a specific spot but also makes a home inside our own memories, living there like it was never anywhere else.
The film is sexually charged and evocative, which isn’t uncommon of a coming-of-age tale, with men watching women, women experimenting with men, and a general theme of lust in the air, like humidity, weighing down on bodies with an unrelenting heat. So there’s that aspect, and by today’s standards we might judge that the girls in the story/women in the movie are being exploited, but there is much more here than simply sex, there’s more being said past the physical parts of the plot. Cultures may generally clash, but we see an example in Tunisia of how a nation might work made up of pieces of other nations, how it might be difficult at times, but ultimately rewarding. Multiple languages are spoken throughout, seamlessly woven together to create one tapestry, and that’s a major point audiences are meant to pick up on. The beach, the warmth, the naps, the cafes, the parties, the disagreements; it’s a lovely snapshot of a time gone but always well-remembered.
Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (1920x1080p), the video quality of the Blu-ray is very nice, considering when the film was released and how it was transferred. It feels much older that it actually is, which is a credit to the whole team, who created this nostalgic world and made every shot look classic.
Audio – The Blu-ray is done in Arabic, French, and Italian DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 or 2.0. Subtitles are available in English. The languages come together, in and out, very nicely, changing with the households we visit, always feeling natural and respected. The music of the film is also solid, with a nice title song about La Goulette that will stick in your head.
Extras – The only special feature is a trailer for Zizou and the Arab Spring.
Recommended. This film was made in 1996, is set in 1967, and is relevant in 2019, a timeless gem that I’m glad I stumbled across. It feels like a time capsule was opened and our own memories came flooding out, mixed with dreams of places we’d never been and experiences we never had, but, despite that, never seeming unfamiliar. The acting isn’t going to blow you away, every line isn’t written to perfection, it’s more a feeling captured on camera than it is a masterpiece of the cinema, but there’s no reason not to enjoy it for what it has, rather than expose it for what it lacks. The video is fine for the time, the audio is strong, the only special feature is a single trailer, so the technical aspects won’t wow, but you’ll never expect them to. A Summer in La Goulette is easy to watch and evokes interesting responses; while it isn’t perfect, those qualities are enough to hold it up.
☆ ☆ ☆ – Content
☆ ☆ ☆ – Video
☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio
☆ – Extras
☆ ☆ – Replay