IFFR 2021: Black Medusa review


Nada (played with resolute sternness by Nour Hajri) is a young woman who leads a double life. By day she works for an online company; at night she scours the bars and clubs of Tunis for men who want to take her home. There are plenty. Once she has someone hooked, she drugs them and, once they are helpless, sexually assaults them violently. Told over nine nights, we witness Nada, become increasingly violent, even as the attention of a female colleague hints at a possible redemption.

With Black Medusa, directors ismaël and Youssef Chebbi have produced a beautiful and slick piece of genre cinema. Imed Aissaoui’s cinematography shows off night time Tunis as a modern city that still has its hinterland of wildness. The dance clubs and bars through which Nada wanders – usually seen at a distance or through layers of glass – have something of Tony Scott’s vampire cult classic The Hunger, and the premise has a similar amoral if not actively immoral queasiness to it.

We see a brief and horrifying flashback to what presumably was the inciting incident to Nada’s nightly prowls, but with the antagonist unknown and the dreamlike nature of the scene it’s impossible to sympathise as much with Nada as Black Medusa seems to require. As an avenging angel or femme fatale figure, Nada is presented as a figure of contained empowerment. Her mutism, which she navigates around with an app, is also – somewhat problematically – tied in with her campaign of violence. Is it because she has been ‘robbed of a voice’ that she must take revenge?

Ultimately, we are witnessing a perpetrator of sexual violence and then homicidal violence have at it, but without the sense that the men, aside from being men, are in any way culpable and deserving of their fate, which is how it differs from the obvious point of comparison: Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman. And yet as morally confusing and confused as Black Medusa is, it retains a deadly hypnotic charm. This is helped significantly by Omar Aloulou’s score and Amal Attaia’s sound design which morphs from a kind of electric trance to a deep melancholy.

John Bleasdale | @drjonty