In the film Satin Rouge widow Lilia (Hiyam Abbas) lives with her only daughter, Salma (Hend El Fahem) in a small apartment. Lilia does a little seamstress work, but most of her day is spent cleaning, watching mindless television programmes, and waiting for her daughter to come home. Salma attends classes, and she rebels against her mother’s affections and expectations by trying to establish a social life away from home. Salma is increasingly more distant, and offering more and more excuses for her unexplained absences. Lilia tracks down the cause of her daughte’s distraction and learns that Salma is seeing a musician, Chokri (Maher Kamoun). Lilia follows Chokri one day, and she’s led to a nightclub. She wanders inside and slips into the seductive world of belly dancing.
Fans of belly dancing should love this film. It’s filled with scene after colourful scene of the evenings spent in the club. These scenes are juxtaposed by the grey sterility of Lilia’s other life–the interfering, nosy neighbours, and a brother who keeps a watchful, condemning eye on Lilia. People in Lilia’s life seem to be troubled that she’s a woman without a man to look after her, to guide her, and to keep her in line, so they feel extremely comfortable intruding, offering comments and judgments that pass as helpful advice. In contrast, Lilia’s life as a cabaret belly dancer is free from such restraints. In the club, she is a powerful, desirable woman coveted by the male audience. She can rev them up to fever pitch, but she always remains in control.
The film emphasizes the sisterhood of the women in the nightclub. Lilia receives encouragement from these bold women–especially from the glittering, self-possessed, Folla (Monia Hichri). These dancers are not the sort to stay at home and accept the roles meted out to them, and Lilia learns some invaluable lessons in survival techniques from her fellow dancers. Ultimately, Lilia’s game is a complicated one, and the film’s message resonates long after the final credits roll. Satin Rouge is a Tunisian film from female director, Raja Amari. The film is in French and Arabic with English subtitles.