This is the first outstanding film I have seen in 2018. It's set in Tunisia, has nine chapters (each composed of one take), happens over one night, and concerns the rape of a young woman, a university student named Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani). Actually, the film is not so much about the rape as it is about Mariam's dogged effort to report it and make it official. Everything is against her.
She first goes to a hospital to obtain evidence of the rape. But to do this, to examine her, the doctor needs a report from the police. But her ability to obtain such a report is complicated by the fact that the rapists are police officers. The men and women who work at the police station do everything they can to discourage her from reporting the crime.
They call her a slut, they physically threaten her, they go on and on about how the fight against terrorism and keeping social order is more important than her puny complaint, they recommend that she go back to the university, sleep, and think deeply about her position. A report would inform her father about the rape, and this would bring her and her family more suffering than the rape itself. Mariam's whole future is at stake.
Mariam, nevertheless, persists. She wants the report and the medical examination. It's fixed in her mind to transform this personal tragedy into a public one. And here we see the greatness of Beauty and the Dogs. The director, Kaouther Ben Hania, exposes the rape's social dimension and what it means for the country that launched the Arab Spring in 2010.
What's seen at the end of Mariam's nightmarish odyssey are the half-baked results of a democratic movement that toppled her country's dictator and demanded the freedoms of citizenship. This revolution will not be complete until Mariam's rights as a citizen—or citoyen, a French word that had, as Walter Benjamin once pointed out, a "distinctly revolutionary connotation"—are fully registered by her society.
Mariam is not ostensibly a rebel or a feminist. She is often frightened, is in a state of shock, and is sometimes wanting to give up and submit to the powers that be. But if she does submit, then the crime, the rape, is isolated. She will have to deal with it on her own.
And why should she have to endure it alone? Rape is the product of societal attitudes toward women and their worth. Everyone wants her to keep it private, but her effort to register the rape is precisely to make it a matter of public record. If it is public, then everyone has to deal with it. The individual, the hero of American freedoms, is, in this brilliant work, forced to be an enemy of democracy.