A jovial and laidback—which isn’t to say carefree or careless—portrait of Tunisian youth caught amid myriad social and economic forces, Die Welt manages to blend fiction and nonfiction with seamless grace. Split into chapters, Alex Pitstra’s economical film charts the day-to-day experiences of 23-year-old DVD shop employee Abdallah (Abdelhamid Naouara), who hilariously introduces himself via a longwinded explanation to a customer about the noxious imperialist undertones of Transformers 2. That the scene ends with the customer still choosing to purchase the Michael Bay blockbuster speaks to both Abdallah’s over-analysis and the willing acceptance of Hollywood’s Arab stereotypes by Arabs themselves, with Pitstra allowing both interpretations to happily coexist without ruining the sequence’s amusing punchline. That lack of authorial finger-wagging typifies Die Welt, which lets its issues of identity, cross-cultural dialogue, political freedom, and familial strains to emerge naturally from Abdallah’s humdrum routines: asking his father for money; searching for more work; hanging out with his father and uncle at a resort, and later bedding one of the Dutch tourists whom they meet; smoking and chatting with friends; and, finally, trying to illegally escape Tunisia for Europe and, perhaps, a reunion with abroad family members he’s never met.
“Everyone in Tunisia is on Facebook,” Abdallah’s sister asserts to her non-member brother, to which he replies, “Everyone in Tunisia is unemployed.” Youthful social/consumerist desires and employment realities are present throughout Die Welt, forming part of the film’s overarching depiction of Abdallah’s quest to define himself in both a fractured clan that partially has overseas roots, and a nation split between Islamic and Western attitudes and traditions. Pitstra touches on issues of democracy, materialism, and Tunisia’s hypocritical stances toward male and female sexual conduct with a light, observant touch in moments such as Abdallah visiting a barbershop, a grocery store, and a nightclub.
All the while, Pitstra uses humor to offset any threat of didacticism, as with a witty montage of Abdallah’s family members that’s almost as deft as his strategy of establishing an authentic sense of time and place by beginning scenes with documentary snapshots of everyday behavior (card games, trips to the baths) before segueing to his more fictionalized material. If Die Welt is ultimately about Abdallah’s quest to find a place for himself in his world, however, it’s also about the related desire to find self-actualization through escape and reinvention, as evidenced by Abdallah’s dream of domestic Euro-luxury bliss, as well as an early shot in which the camera zooms out a window toward a gorgeous beach—a moment of yearning for a better somewhere that, as the finale proves, is too often just out of reach.