The strength ofA son, the first feature by Tunisian Mehdi M. Barsaoui, is mainly due to the skill of his script, which manages to intertwine many social, political and moral questions in a single family drama. A Tunisian good society couple and their son are targeted by a group of terrorists whom they have the misfortune to meet on a deserted road; a stray bullet reaches the child, is seriously injured and requires a liver transplant. Knowing who will be the organ donor requires a revelation that will deeply affect the couple (his father is not his parent), in addition to causing a series of dilemmas and negotiations symptomatic of dysfunctions in Tunisian society: inequalities between classes, patriarchy, weight of religion, insufficient public services, cynical trafficking.
The tragedy of this well-to-do family brutally confronted with violence and corruption from which it was previously preserved resonates in a precise historical context – the story taking place in August and September 2011, a few months after the Arab Spring and the fall of the President. Ben Ali -, to demonstrate how an apparent political appeasement is not enough to cure an entire country of its ills, shortcomings and archaisms. The different ways of obtaining a liver to save the life of a child can then be perceived as so many ways of using the past to preserve the future, by prolonging the mischief or by exceeding them; by being truly modern and democratic or by behaving like a scoundrel for personal interest.
Formally fairly conventional, the film is rather effective when it is content with the facts, but becomes heavy as soon as it dwells on psychology or emotions. Bold accelerations or ellipses can succeed slow planes on the defeated faces and lost looks of the characters, emphasizing their dismay or their sadness with the help of unsubtle music.
While saluting the relevance of the political allegory and the undeniable force of two or three scenes (those concerning the trafficking in children’s organs), it is thus regrettable thatA son stays within the limits of a good thesis film, never overflowing with what he seeks to demonstrate, by daring to venture neither on the side of melodrama nor that of the cruel fable that his script nevertheless contained in power.
A son of Mehdi M. Barsaoui with Sami Bouajila, Najla Ben Abdallah, Youssef Khemiri… 1 h 32.