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A Summer In La Goulette  

Sex and religion are always a volatile combination - no matter how conservative or liberal one wishes on being, one`s prejudges always instinctively rear their ugly head whenever it is found that a close relative (usually the children) gets involved with one from another religion. These grim instincts infect an otherwise sunny African town in A Summer in La Goulette.

The film takes place in Tusina, a French colony in Africa, during the 1950`s, populated with a mixture of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Can`t you just hear the brewing of trouble right now???? The major focus is on three female friends, each one from each one of the major religions. The girls swear on the Virgin Mary that they all will lose their virginity on the Day of the Madonna, August 15. Sounds pretty basic, right? Not when there`s religion and patriarchy to contend with.

A few political problems simmer, such as the possibility of war in the Middle East, reported by an eccentric man always with a short wave radio (and which the local kids always steal from him). Yet the locals are more fascinated with returns of Max 'Delon' ("sexier than Alian Delon"), and of Claudia Carladine. And the three girls are hoping to meet up with the first three guys they meet and ensnare them in their plot. And they meet those very guys, all of different religions just like them. However, the problem arises later on, in a wedding party for the Jewish girl's sister when the three boys and girls get a private room of their own away from the ceremony.... and the presence of authority. But they are found out, and the next scene is painful, as those good old-fashioned feelings of bigotry pour out. For, as you see, the fact that the fathers found out that three pure, virgin daughters were alone with three boys isn`t nearly as bad as the fact that each father`s daughter was with a man not of her own religion. Yet even with this deep excercise in strictness, the girls are resourceful enough to attempt seeing these boys again.

A small kink in the youthful romantic plans appears in the form of Hadj, a Muslim apartment mogul known for his ruthless attitude toward his tenants. He is a close family friend of the Muslim girl`s family, and one fateful day he accidentally discovers the girl bathing. He is immediately overtaken with lust, and begins his pursuit. The woman eventually senses this, and gleefully plays with his head and his sense of decorum, which is soon revealed as utter hypocrisy, as he talks about virtues before getting a glimpse of her cleavage. His hypocrisy becomes even greater as he does everything in his power to make sure she and her friends cannot fool around with the local boys, proclaiming that the woman`s virtue is to be protected. And his overall corrupt nature is apparent when he even goes so far as to attempt bribing the girl`s family so he could marry her, on pretense of protecting her.

Yet the woman in question, and her friends, don`t let such annoyances get in the way of their goal. This is consummated, sort of, at the end, when the girls take their men to a religious ruin while the potential fatherly obstructions are busy with their ceremonies. I say sort of because a little bit of a small surprise is in store for the men.

The women who are the focus of this story aren`t very deep, as all they really have in their mind is the hopeful introduction to womanhood, as well as the typical teenage pursuits. Political and religious statements are not their forte; rather the girls are ogled for much of the film's running time. This includes a shot where the neighbourhood boys catch a glimpse of the Jewish and Christian girls bathing. One of them even manages to faint at the sight of the nude Christian woman, who I must admit has a pretty nice rack, but the overall image is just, well, tacky! The decidedly narrow perspective of these women would offend or disappoint those hoping for more radical approaches. Even in such a story as this, women as sex objects seem to be the easy way out when discussing the subject of repressed women in their respective religions.

But , then again, the men aren`t seen as very complicated either, as they all behave in a typically repressive fashion. If they aren`t young guys in a group behaving crudely and objectifying to the women, they are old guys who either see their daughters as property or who see young women as jewels which only they can possess. The subversiveness in this community is in the fact the young women simply do not care about such institutions as religion and patriarchy, but simply want to fool around and - perhaps- fall in love, although love is not really a part of it. The fact that they act out their scheme their own way is, in its minor fashion, a major protest to the rules they live under.

I would call this a fluffy film with a religious/political bent. Despite the tensions between the religious factions, those tensions will only go so far in what is described as a romantic comedy/drama. Everything ends in a somewhat happy way, and ultimately the lives of these people will not be damaged by a bit of fooling around. This is essentially a pleasant if quiet movie about a touchy subject, and if you don`t mind a bit of light entertainment plus subtitles, A Summer in La Goulette will do alright.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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