Film Reviews

TIFF Review: ‘Bezness as Usual’

Doc offers an intimate portrait of a contemporary Muslim family

Courtesy of TIFF

Bezness as Usual
(Netherlands, 92 min.)
Dir. Alex Pitstra
Programme: TIFF Docs (North American Premiere)

It’s “bezness as usual” in Tunisia for Mohsen, the absentee father of filmmaker Alex Pitstra. “Bezness” is the local vernacular for business in Tunisia, often of the off-the-books variety. There’s also an underlying implication that “bezness” entitles male entrepreneurs to take advantage of tourists, particularly women, as travellers descend upon Tunisian beaches. Mohsen likes to grab a pretty lady just as much as he likes to make a sale. His children, however, think it’s time their father devised a new bezness plan.

The film sees Pitstra, who was raised in Holland by his mother, recount his story of reconnecting with Mohsen after many years of estrangement. Pitstra doesn’t make the journey alone, though, as he invites several of his siblings and half-siblings to get together with their father and confront the legacy he is leaving his offspring. Mohsen’s daughter Jasmin adds a dynamic voice to the doc as she embodies a new generation of women who refuse to submit to the patriarchal ideology on which their father built his life.

Bezness as Usual offers an frank study of a contemporary Muslim family as the different generations debate the teachings of Islam that have led their father to his conservatism and fundamentalism. Mohsen refuses to look his daughter in the eyes when she addresses him until she calls him out for treating his children with varying degrees of respect. The film reveals the intricacy of generational conflict as parents and children grow in different directions despite taking their beliefs from the same roots. The film challenges the sensational view of Muslims that audiences receive in the west. By taking the cameras into the homes of this family as Mohsen becomes more extreme in his views, Pitstra situates his family story within a larger, collective struggle against a crippling ideology.

The doc affords Mohsen the chance to distance his fundamentalist beliefs from those of extremists. The doc underscores this sentiment with a critical scene in which the family finds itself shaken when a suicide bomber targets the beach of their hotel. Bombers are not all Muslims, just as all Muslims are not bombers, and the doc positions the subjects as an alternative. Bezness as Usual lets contemporary sensibility confront tradition in a unique and intimate family portrait.

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