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Fox Lorber presents
Man of Ashes (2000)

"Who has put his friends to shame? It's Farfat. The source of evil? It's Farfat. Of degeneration? It's Farfat. Of perversion? Depravity? The Devil, it's Farfat. Always Farfat. Poor Farfat, they've got your number."
- Farfat (Khaled Ksouri)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: October 02, 2000

Stars: Khaled Ksouri, Imed Maalal
Other Stars: Mustafa Adouani, Wassila Chawki, Sonia Mansour
Director: Nouri Bouzid

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes, brief nudity, violence)
Run Time: 01h:49m:18s
Release Date: August 14, 2000
UPC: 720917523224
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ B-DB D+

DVD Review

Man of Ashes (Rih essed) tells the story of Farfat (Khaled Ksouri), a troubled young ne'er-do-well carpenter, and his more serious friend Hachemi (Imed Maalal), a nervous groom-to-be. The two share a dark secret from their apprenticeship under a man named Ameur (Mustafa Adouani); when Farfat's manliness is publicly questioned, Hachemi begins to realize something about his own sexuality. Events come to a head on the eve of Hachemi's wedding, when his friends take him to the house of Sejra (Wassila Chawki), the local madam.

I didn't know what to expect from Man of Ashes going in; I confess to a certain prejudice about the likely content constraints on writer/director Nouri Bouzid's film, made and distributed in the North African country of Tunisia. What I found instead was a subtle but frank film about sex, homosexuality, and growing up, with a bit of violence, nudity and some rather graphic grappling. This isn't to say that the film is exploitative in any way; it is quite the opposite, just a bit surprising to these Western eyes.

The film treats its subject in a matter-of-fact manner with no sensationalism or moralizing implied or explicit. It draws strength from its naturalistic depiction of life in a small Tunisian town, quietly building up a dramatic story of friends whose past and present lives drive them to irrevocable choices and actions. All of the actors seem comfortable onscreen, with nuanced work from Khaled Ksouri as the immature Farfat and a touching turn by Wassila Chawki as the aging prostitute Sejra. Director Nouri Bouzid's craftsmanship is solid, with clear if unexciting shot compositions, and he pays particular attention to the film's impressive sound design, using electronic effects and unexpected sounds to accentuate emotional moments. He also appears to have taken advantage of an unexpected sandstorm in the best "old Hollywood tradition", turning it into a metaphor for the turmoil in Hachemi's family as windows break and tarpaulins tear away.

Man of Ashes isn't perfect—the storytelling falters on occasion, muddying its themes, and too many interesting characters are introduced, then dismissed when they've fulfilled their intended functions. But it's a fresh and watchable film from a culture whose films are rarely seen in the US, interesting as much for its context (bars close at 8:00 PM!) as for its content.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Man of Ashes is presented in its original 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio with a non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer. The source print is in middling condition, with constant (though light) dirt flecking and some heavy scratching around the reel changes. The film's burned-in English subtitles are sometimes hard to read against light backgrounds (with no outlines around the letters) and are rather unstable, "dancing" visibly in the digital transfer. The low-budget film generally has a soft look, with occasional grain, and in some scenes the light level appears to vary in a subtle "rippling" fashion, as though induced by faulty camera or telecine equipment. There are a few compression artifacts in complex scenes, but detail and color are reasonably solid. Far from a stellar transfer, but watchable.

Image Transfer Grade: D


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Fox Lorber presents Man of Ashes with a Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic soundtrack, ProLogic-decoded to the center speaker. There are a few pops and crackles due to the print's condition, but dialogue is generally clear and creative sound design imparts some welcome depth to the mono audio track. A competent transfer given the source.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The Man of Ashes DVD features minimal supplements, just 8 picture-menu chapter stops, Filmographies and Awards for the writer/director and 2 cast members, 3 text screens of Production Credits (film crew, cast, and DVD production staff), and a Weblink to the Winstar Video site. The film's burned-in, occasionally "typo'ed" English subtitles cannot be turned off, so native Arabic speakers will have to put up with them. No other production information or even a trailer—a little cultural context would have been much appreciated here, and I'd love to know how this film was marketed in its home territory.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Man of Ashes is a subtly frank story about sex, fear and maturation in Tunisia. Fox Lorber's DVD transfer is competent considering the source print's condition, though supplements are sparse. A quiet, dark yet hopeful film; worth seeing for its understated, honest look at North African culture.


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