Fatma and daughters Najeh and Waffeh are machtat, traditional wedding musicians performing their joyful songs and rousing rhythms at ceremonies in Mahdia, Tunisia. But as the film progresses, the sense grows that their exuberance is partly an attempt to banish the darker aspects of married life.
Machtat shows Najeh and Waffeh’s own struggles in this area. Divorcee Najeh is on her cell phone making frantic attempts to find a reliable marriage candidate—her brother must not find out. Waffeh has the opposite problem: she wants to be freed from the torment of her physically abusive husband.
Director Sonia Ben Slama met the sisters when filming Maktoub (Tout est écrit, 2015), another film in which the position of women plays a major role. Shooting in a lively and observational style, she keeps close to the three women—and leaves the men outside the frame. There’s little romance here; relationships, it seems, are mostly transactional. Although Najeh, Waffeh and their mother have a good sense of humor and are very fond of each other, the problems cause increasing tension between them. These women have to work hard to follow their chosen paths.