Note: The film is being screened again on the 29th at 10am at Siri Fort (I intend to watch it again) so spoilers after “More”(below).
She & He is a film about limits which frequently makes that leap into the surreal with the incorporation of absurdist elements. It’s clearly a writers films with short, sharp and intense dialogues, tantrums and long speechless scenes that intensify the impact of the words that follow. The film draws from several genres, including the Theatre of the Absurd, Horror, with elements of sadomasochism (tribute to Fellini?).
The Tunisian film is almost entirely focused on two main characters in an apartment – a “She” and a “He” – and took around 4 years to write, two weeks to shoot and 18 months to edit. For the filming, they rented two apartments – one for the shoot and the other for the equipment and the actors. The only people allowed outside those two rooms were the caterers.
“It’s a film about limits, shot within limits” said Director Eyles Baccar, “a limit of sets, actors, budget. It’s about the limits set upon us by religion, law, people”. The absurdist reactions, the quiet building up of emotions before outbursts, the constant switch of feelings for the other actor stems from pent up rage and sexual tension.
“Tunisia is a closed society in many ways – where half the people are regular citizens, and the other half cops. It’s a constant state of paranoia and fear. So I wanted to project that situation, and what kind of an impact it can have on people”
There were moments where the film seemed to be a horror film – with the lighting, the screams in the background. “She” almost looked dead at times, particularly in the beginning. “We wanted her to look both real and not real at the same time” said Baccar. “There were small things that we did to make the film always seem on the limit.” The dialogues sometimes just didn’t seem connected, and Baccar confirmed the absurdist influence of Beckett…
The lighting was from behind the wall, said Baccar; not a human eye, and the filming wasn’t true to the logic of the frame. There’s also the element of time – the film seems longer than the interaction between the two main characters — just 2-3 hrs, Baccar said — because of the way it is split. There were some who thought this had elements of theater because of the single set and few characters.
Baccar says that he really cant make the film like this again because though this film is not autobiographical, he was going through a troubled phase – his treatment of the concept would be different if he were to make it now.
“She” comes across as sadomasochistic – drawing pleasure from humiliating “He” by making him exercise till he’s exhausted; making him bark like a dog while doing pullups, moan while doing situps. One of the two weak moments of the film is of comic relief – when a neighbour rings the bell and and says that he can take the barking, the whinnying, but the moaning – that’s taking it too far. Comic relief, yes, but was it needed? There are just two bit-parts: one is the neighbour, and the other is a girls mother — it’s not clear whether she is She’s mother, so that makes her seem real.
The other weak moment is that the end seems to justify the absurdism, which was not needed — it tends to weaken the film for me. Baccar’s is a different take on this – by showing He opening the door, and imagining a she walking in (the first scene repeated with an imaginary She) he wants to highlight the impact of the loneliness that pervades society today.