A Tale of Love and Desire: an exploration of religious and gender expectations in Paris

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A Tale of Love and Desire, currently showing at Sydney Film Festival 2021 is director Tunisian-French director Leyla Bouzid’s second feature film. It was one of 23 films selected for, and was the closing film at, Cannes Critics’ Week. Cinema is in the family: Leyla Bouzid is the daughter of director Nouri Bouzid.

A Tale of Love and Desire / une histoire d'amour et de désir

It’s interesting to see that the English language title for is actually a true translation of the French title, Une histoire d’amour et de désir, Often foreign films have their titles completely changed in English.


A Tale of Love and Desire centres on two characters. Ahmed (Sami Outalbali, Sex Education) and Tunisian Farah (Zbeida Belhajamor). Ahmed is a young Frenchman of Algerian descent who has been awarded a scholarship to attend the prestigious Sorbonne University in Paris. Farah, just arrived from Tunisia, is in his comparative literature course. He is captivated by her from the moment he lays eyes on her.

A Tale of Love and Desire


Ahmed also often called Médé throughout the film by his family and friends, frustrated me throughout the film. He has a single facial expression for the whole film. He always seemed to be looking unimpressed at what was going on around him. Whether it be at Farah reading out loud from an erotic 15th century Arabic book in a book store, at his friends telling him to stop his teenaged sister sleeping with someone named Bilal or in class when he is asked to speak.


It is difficult to know whether this single facial expression it truly is shyness and a bit of prudishness at being exposed to erotic literature or whether he is actually judging everyone around him. Or is it his shock coming from a culture in which women are supposed to act a certain way to find that sex is spoken about, let alone written about and engaged in? I found it frustrating to see such views and judgment in a man in Paris in 2021 but have no doubt that they do exist. Perhaps my frustration is testament to how convincing Sami Outalbali was?

A Tale of Love and Desire / une histoire d'amour et de désir

Assumptions are made by each Ahmed and Farah, without questioning the truth of them. Are all people who come to France from Tunisia there to send money back to the family? Are all students whose parents pay for them rich? Have women who are comfortable talking about sex had a lot of it? And is it really a problem if they have? Are men who are unwilling to rush into sex all virgins or gay?


Apart from frustration at Ahmed throughout the film, A Tale of Love and Desire is an interesting approach to issues of religion, gender (what’s good for one isn’t always good for another in some eyes), and a short foray into the world of Arabic erotic literature.




Screening and tickets for A Tale of Love and Desire

A Tale of Love and Desire has 2 more screenings at Sydney Film Festival:

  • Friday 12 November at 8pm at Palace Norton Street
  • Saturday 13 November at 7:30pm at Dendy Newtown


Purchase your tickets at this link: https://www.sff.org.au/program/browse/a-tale-of-love-and-desire


You may also like to view our other Sydney Film Festival 2021 content:

9 films in French to see at Sydney Film Festival 2021

19 multilingual films including French to see at SFF 2021

15 films with French links that are not in French at SFF 2021

My Best Part, original French title Garçon Chiffon, is an unnecessarily painful, drawn-out film.


If you’d prefer to stream French films at home:

Alliance Française 2020 French Film Festival films to stream/rent online

Melbourne, you don’t have to miss out on the AFFFF 2020 films!

11 French movies from the 2019 Alliance Française French Film Festival to watch on SBS on Demand

Feel like you’ve watched all of Netflix? Ritz cinemas has 134 French films available for stream rental



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Une histoire d'amour et de désir - A Tale of Love and Desire

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