As I Open My Eyes, Presenting Princess Shaw - Capsule Reviews
Screened at the 2016 San Francisco International Film Festival and COLCOA at the Director’s Guild in Los Angeles, As I Open My Eyes (À peine j’ouvre les jeux) is a Tunisia/France/Belgium co-production. Directed by Leyla Bouzid, this narrative feature includes music sequences shot by cinematographer Sébastien Goepfert that give it a documentary feel.
The film begins in the summer of 2010 on the cusp of the Arab Spring. Recent high school grad Farah (Baya Medhaffer) wants nothing more than to sing with a local band. No ordinary rock band, they mix punk and hip hop rhythms with a pulsating oud played by her boyfriend Bohrene (Montassar Ayari).
Not surprisingly, her mother Hayet (Ghalia Benali) wants her to pursue medical studies, not show business. Undeterred, Farah sneaks out of the house to sing at a nightclub. This isn’t San Francisco where an up-an-coming group’s problems revolve around day jobs and paying rent. Farah and her friends learn the limits of artistic freedom in their country. The lyrics of the songs (written for the film by Iraqui composer Khyam Allami) contain references to current events the Interior Ministry finds threatening.
Written and directed by Ido Haar, the documentary Presenting Princess Shaw is also about a singer finding her voice. Samantha Montgomery struggles through life in post Katrina New Orleans. When not on the job as a low paid caregiver, she uploads deeply personal songs she’s written to youtube under the moniker Princess Shaw.
The theme of global connections run throughout the film. The British Amy Winehouse, who was highly influenced by American soul singers, is a favorite of the African American Montgomery. Princess Shaw’s videos are “discovered” by Israeli composer Kutiman who creates astonishing mash-up compositions that are much more than the sum of their parts.
Opens May 27