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Travel

Visit the Tunisian filming locations of Monty Python film 'Life of Brian'

Monty Python had already shot two films in Britain when they decided to travel overseas for their third – and best effort – Life of Brian. It was a work of great beauty, brilliance and bucolics, premiering in 1979. It was the troupe’s most provocative work, but also their most thoughtful and far-reaching, asking viewers to question the validity of their religion.

Adding to the propensity, power and persuasion came the group’s decision to produce the film in Tunisia, where the glorious locations and historical backdrops helped seal their intentions. What it added were texture and tapestry, and the film utilised the six men at their best. Indeed, Graham Chapman gave the performance of his life as the titular character, searching for meaning in a world that tries to rid him of it.

The film presents the six men in a landscape that was new to them, but they treated Tunisia with the utmost respect, using it to accentuate their themes, and not as a means to belittle a country that didn’t speak English. Rather, it bolsters their story, one of their best, but be warned those of you who are easily offended.

Naturally, there are Python fans out there who want to follow in the footsteps of their heroes, and that’s why Far Out has personally selected five of the most noteworthy to use as their guide and guardian. Remember to act respectfully when you arrive in Tunisia, and act as you would expect someone to act if they arrived in your home.

Visit the filming locations of Monty Python’s Tunisia:

5. Amphitheatre, Carthage, Tunis, Tunisia

This beautiful amphitheatre is one of Tunisia’s nicer emblems, bringing a sense of history to the country. In its own historical way, the scenery blends into the world at large, creating a sense of perspective and size within the community at large. Catering to the landscape, the amphitheatre creates a sense of longing and authenticity to the comedy, that otherwise prides rapier-sharp wit over lush montages.

The Monty Python team decided to venture into the Tunisian landscape in the hope of finding perspective on the growing landscape. The scenes are wet with texture, creating a sense of lingering longing which brings the film into a more intellectual and sophisticated form of filming. While filming in Tunisia, the team bumped into Goon writer Spike Milligan. “I remember a meal Spike and a group of us had together in Monastir, Tunisia,” Michael Palin recalled. “Spike had been visiting some of the battlefields he’d fought on in the Second World War, and by sheer coincidence, the Pythons were filming Life of Brian nearby.”

(Credit: Maher hizem)

4. El Hadj, Tunisia

The film ends with an incendiary Crucifixion, where the central character abandons sorrow for a sing-song. Enjoying the importance of the moment, the film ends with a deeply reflective moment that left many audience members in tears. There were other members who felt bemused by the spectacle, sensing that the movie underscored the foundations of their religious belief, as it equated the death of their God to a singalong at a holiday camp. It made a noise in England, made headlines in America, and wound up getting banned in Ireland, at a time when the Pope had made his monumental visit to the Emerald Isle.

The scene had certain pathos, and likely found a fan in George Harrison, who felt that organised religion needed to be taken down a peg or two, for the scripture in the world. The Beatle personally financed the film by putting his house up as collateral, and good for him that he did. The gorgeous Tunisian landscape looks much more effective than a backdrop in Britain might have been. It’s to the Python’s credit that they use the desert landscape effectively, creating a new sense of palpability and possibility. “Still the most anybody has ever paid for a Cinema ticket,” Eric Idle recalled, remembering the Beatle’s generosity.” His life was filled with laughter and even his death was filled with laughter.”

(Credit: Alamy)

3. Kasbah of Sousse, Sousse, Tunisia

The walls in this instance provide the backbone for Brian of Nazareth as he attempts to topple the domineering Roman Empire that stands in his native city. The edifice serves as a form of escape for the man mistaken as the new messiah, climbing the walls to find salvation in a country that would rob him of every sense of identity in the world. The walls create a division between one point of the precipice and one element of escapism.

As with many other locations that wind up in the film, the location is given a great sense of authority and presence over the world, helping the movie gives a sense of geography. The sandier colours are a great contrast to the greys that made up the Python’s past efforts, understanding that there was a wider sense of space to the world at large, whether it was in the Tunisian headland, or capturing a new form of landscape that was previously considered alien territory for British comedy. It’s a stunning location, and essential to visit.

(Credit: Christian Manhart)

2. Ribat, Monastir, Tunisia

And then there’s the fortified monastery, which is where the majority of the movie was shot, creating a genuine sense of claustrophobia that permeates the film. This location was used in Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, the one Biblical effort that was stronger than the Monty Python comedy adventure. It’s a perfect location, laying on drama, trauma, and location onto the efforts that the people in question create for themselves on a day to day basis. The central location underscores the dissertation of the film, as the common man must use anything in his position to tackle the armies that surround his heart and home.

The place provides the setting for the picture, understanding that there’s more under the surface than there is above it. In many ways, the fortress holds a spiritual quality, reminding viewers that the layers that swamp them in their daily lives are the layers they have to climb to reach their point of personal and intellectual nirvana. John Cleese is hoping to bring this story to the stage. “Today I finished the first draft of the script for the stage version of Life of Brian,” he tweeted in 2021. Interestingly, he added: “No Pythons in the cast. We’ve had enough die already.”

(Credit: Bedis ElAcheche)

1. Matmata, Tunisia

This is the scene that caused eyebrows to raise in 1979: Yes, the Pythons had the foresight/nerve to capture Jesus Christ giving a sermon on the mount, only to be heckled by members of the audience who wish for him to speak more cohesively and cogently during the segment. The Messiah is presented in human form, dressed in ordinary robes, very much the Anglo-Saxon he almost certainly wasn’t in real life. But there was more to the scene than mere dressing, and silhouettes, as it shows the Tunisian city in sparkling, splendid glory. And so it came to pass that the scene provoked certain members of the audience who felt that their Messiah should have been presented with greater tact.

Out of all the locations, this one might be of greatest interest to British readers aching to see the sea and sun. The town surrounds the Mediterranean Sea, giving the scenery a certain splendour that only looks more radiant up close and in person. Cinema can only project so much beauty- it’s up to the viewers to live it.

(Credit: Arian Zwegers)