100 words synopsis
Die Welt is the debut of Dutch-Tunisian director Alex Pitstra.
We follow Abdallah, a young DVD salesman from Tunis, who dreams of a better life in Europe, or in Die Welt, as his father calls the other side of the Mediterranean. The film is based on Pitstra’s own observations in Tunisia, his father’s country, which was unfamiliar to him for the first 25 years of his life.
With fresh cinematic audacity and convincing performances, including a role played by his own father, Pitstra paints an immersive picture of daily life in post-revolutionary Tunisia.
Die Welt is an audacious hybrid between fiction and documentary, showing contemporary Tunisia shortly after the Jasmine Revolution in 2011. In this insightful moral drama about a society in the vacuum between dictatorship and democracy, we follow the young DVD salesman Abdallah, who becomes increasingly frustrated by his inability to realize a fulfilling existence for himself. After meeting the Dutch tourist Anna, he starts dreaming of a better life in Europe, or Die Welt, as his father calls the promised land on the other side of the Mediterranean. Will Abdallah succeed—like his father did in the past—in getting to Europe with the help of a Dutch woman? Or will he have to find another way to escape his native country? And does he want to leave at all?
In his debut, Dutch film director Alex Pitstra investigates his Tunisian roots, which he was unfamiliar with most of his life. He paints a mesmerizing picture of the current state of affairs in his father’s country, seen through Western eyes. Pitstra worked with both professional actors as well as family members in supporting roles, including his father, his half-sister and his cousins from France. Together with filmmaker and friend Thijs Gloger, who operated the camera and assisted in writing and editing, and with the help of the young Tunesian screenwriter Abdallah Rezgui, Pitstra has given the film a fresh cinematic edge that draws the viewer right into the immediacy of everyday life in Tunisia.
‘I know die Welt,’ says Abdallah’s father when he talks about Europe. This ‘promised land’ for Tunisian dvd-seller Abdallah, lies on the other side of the Mediterranian. According to his Westernized cousins from France, everything is possible in Europe. Abdallah’s father also travelled there once. And it’s not a coincidence that the DVDs Abdallah sells, illustrate the life that he dreams of.
In Die Welt we see 23-year-old Abdallah around the summer of 2011. He and his sister live with their father on the outskirts of Tunis, in Ben Arous. Tunisia is looking forward to its first free elections, since Ben Ali has fled the country: the hopes are high. The country is in need of a new government that can tackle the many problems in Tunisia, like the steeply growing unemployment rate. Many young Tunisians take advantage of their newly gained freedom, by seeking a better life in Europe.
Abdallah doesn’t really have any plans. His is ambitious and smart, but because there are hardly any interesting jobs around, he hasn’t much hope of becoming successful in life. He cannot afford university, so the odds of him finding a good job are next to nothing.
Abdallah’s desire to flee to Europe becomes even stronger when he visits a family member’s wedding in seaside resort Sousse. There he, his father and his uncle meet Dutch tourists Anna and José. Because the women are compelled by the idea to see an authentic side of the country, they decide to accept an invitation to come to the wedding party.
After a one-night stand with Anna, Abdallah starts longing for a new life in the free world, where he can take charge of his own life. Preferably with Anna at his side. However, for a poor Tunisian it is practically impossible to enter Fort Europe. After his adventure in Sousse, Abdallah finds the DVD shop closed and his boss has suddenly disappeared. Abdallah tries to find a new job, but it’s not easy. There is hardly any work at all, and boredom lurks around every corner. The relationship between Abdallah and his father, who makes a living as a car mechanic, is constantly under pressure. His father never found the life he was looking for in Europe, and when he returned to Tunisia, he became a hard working Muslim. In fact, that’s what he expects his son to do, too. Abdallah finds work at the Sunday car market through a friend of his father, but he’s not satisfied with the job. In the meantime, Abdallah sees how Tunisian society is gradually changing. Traditional values are being challenged, as a result of suddenly gained freedom. His sister is begging her father for a new laptop; his friends don’t do anything but hang out and smoke in their self-fabricated shed and his cousins describe Europe as the promised land. Tunisia is in a vacuum. The dictator has left, but the problems have remained.
Abdallah cannot avoid unemployment either. He becomes more and more frustrated about not being able to make a good living for himself. He is still too dependent of his father. At the car market he is offered the opportunity to cross the Mediterranean. Abdallah isn’t sure what to do: follow his dreams? Or could his future still be bright in his own country?
The film’s cinematographic style switches from Hollywood-like framing with smooth transitions, to a more direct and organic approach. These two different styles represent the harsh features of an Arab country that has to deal with more and more Western influences every day.
The developments in Die Welt are viewed from a low-set perspective. The shots are suggestive, as if taken from a child’s point of view; looking up in amazement. This perspective was a deliberate choice: In Die Welt, we see Tunisia through the eyes of an outsider.
Director Alex Pitstra has a Dutch mother and a Tunisian father, who was absent during most of his life. Die Welt is partly based on his father’s past. He came to Europe in his twenties, seeking fortune and happiness with a European woman.
The film is about Pitstra getting to know his second identity, projected on to a fictional half-brother in Tunisia, but at the same time it is a retrospective of his father’s past.