Under the Fig Trees12A
For her two previous films, French-Tunisian director Erige Sehiri presented two documentaries. For her third film Under the Fig Trees, despite being her first work of fiction, you could almost mistake it for a documentary, focusing as it does on the workers of a fig plantation.
Waiting on the side of the road, awaiting a lift to work from their boss are a number of people, including some young women, Fidé (Fidé Fdhili), Melek (Feten Fdhili) and Sana (Ameni Fdhili).
Their boss Firas (Firas Amri) is taking them to a local fig plantation, where they will spend the day picking them.
The day has a bit more of a buzz about it when the young women discover that one of the boys they dated five years ago has returned, which causes an outbreak of excitement, as they continue to pick the fruit alongside their work colleagues for the rest of the day.
This may well be Sehiri’s first feature, but it has the DNA of her documentary work. It all takes place in one day, as we follow a group of young women, played by actual sisters, throughout it, giving it a realistic, fly-on-the-plantation feel about it from the off.
Throughout the day the audience is treated like a mute member of the work force, catching conversations here and there. In doing so, a picture of a modern Tunisia materialises; this group of youngsters are part of the Instagram, Facebook etc generation, carrying their mobile phones and smoking vapes. Of course the older generation amongst them look on, and to their credit don’t say anything, choosing instead to keep their heads down and crack on with the work.
During this time, underneath a canopy of fig leaves, we are presented with a number of conversations that are indicative of what’s important in the lives of these young women. It’s no surprise then that love appears at the top of their list. And at times, emotions spill over and things get a little heated.
If it’s possible to have a coming of age film take place in just one day, then this is surely it. It is beautifully shot, with some adorable performances from its cast, both young and old, delivering a snapshot of what it could be like for real for all those working in these conditions.
The beating heart of the film is undeniably the performances from the real life sisters, who Sehiri obviously understood what the Fdhili sisters would bring to this particular fig party, and utilised their real life relationships with real skill, weaving them seamlessly into her tale, giving her film genuine sparkle.
With its Italian neo-realist blueprint, Sehiri’s film is not only rooted in realism, but is also quite magical, featuring a day full of charm, insight and beauty.