74th Berlinale | A Montrealer in the running for the Golden Bear

The very first feature film by Montrealer Meryam Joobeur, Where we come fromwas selected in the official competition of the 74e Berlin International Film Festival, which takes place next month. The Quebecer of American-Tunisian origin will compete for the Golden Bear at the Berlinale, alongside big names in world auteur cinema such as Olivier Assayas, Bruno Dumont, Hong Sang-Soo, Abderrahmane Sissako and Mati Diop.

How do we feel when one of the four biggest film festivals in the world gives us such an honor? “It’s a bit surreal, to be honest. I think I will only really believe it when I am there with the whole team,” the young filmmaker told me, contacted on Monday in Paris, where she is finishing the mixing of her film, co-produced by Canada, France and Tunisia.

Despite her 32 years, Meryam Joobeur is not in her first laurels. His most recent short film, the disturbing and poetic Brotherhoodwas a finalist at the Oscars in 2020. Presented in more than 150 festivals, it won 75 international awards, including best short film at the Toronto International Film Festival, in addition to being awarded at the Gala Québec Cinéma.

Where we come from, co-produced by Maria Gracia Turgeon and Annick Blanc of the Montreal production house Midi la Nuit (behind the excellent short film Wildcat by Jeremy Comte), stars Salha Nasraoui, Mohamed Hassine Grayaa, Malek Mechergui, Adam Bessa, Dea Liane, Rayen Mechergui and Chaker Mechergui.

Most of these actors were from the cast of Brotherhood, which tells the story of a young Tunisian returning to his family, a year after leaving for Syria to fight with the Islamic State group. He returns, to the happiness of his mother and his younger brothers, but to the despair of his father, a shepherd who has difficulty digesting the return of the prodigal son on the arm of a woman wearing the niqab.

Where we come fromwhose working title was Motherhoodis rather interested in the mother’s view of her eldest sons who have gone to wage jihad, when one of them returns to the village with his very young wife.


Still from the film Where we come from

“I see the two films as yin and yang,” the author-filmmaker explains to me. The two stories are complementary. The context is similar, but the treatment of the story, the point of view, the themes are different. I felt like I was exploring a whole new territory. »

I changed the title of the film when I realized that the question I had been asking for five years was: who owns my life? This is a question that touches me deeply and which guided the creation of this film.

Meryam Joobeur, director

Meryam Joobeur spent her early childhood in Tunisia, but grew up in the United States, where she was born during her father’s graduate studies. She arrived in Montreal in 2009 to study at McGill, then in cinema at Concordia University. She decided to stay, like several other artists from abroad who studied at university here.

“My cinematographer [Vincent Gonneville] just texted me to remind me that eight years ago, to the day, we were scouting in northern Tunisia and we met the three brothers who star in both films. We went on a road trip, to get inspired, to be creative, and it led to this unforgettable life experience. »

Where we come from is one of only two first feature films in the official competition of this 74e Berlinale, which opens on February 15 with Small Things Like These by Belgian Tim Mielants, about the treatment of Irish women by the Catholic Church in the 1980s. The film, produced by and starring Cillian Murphy – who is expected to be nominated for an Oscar this Tuesday for his role in Oppenheimer – is also among the 20 films in the competition.

It is the jury chaired by Mexican-Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o, the first black person to occupy this position, that will be responsible for awarding the Golden Bear on February 25, after that awarded to the documentary On the Adamant by Frenchman Nicolas Philibert, in 2023.

Among the candidates, we find in particular Another End by the Italian Piero Messina (The attestation), with Gael Garcia Bernal and Bérénice Bejo, Black Tea by the Mauritanian Abderrahmane Sissako, filmmaker of the excellent Timbuktu, A Traveler’s Needs by the South Korean Hong Sang-Soo with Isabelle Huppert, Dahomeya documentary by Franco-Senegalese Mati Diop (Atlantic), Out of time by Frenchman Olivier Assayas (Sentimental destinies), autobiographical story with Vincent Macaigne as the filmmaker’s alter ego, confined during the pandemic with his brother (journalist Michka Assayas), A Different Man by the American Aaron Shimberg, who caused a sensation at the Sundance Film Festival last week, as well as The empire by Frenchman Bruno Dumont (Humanity, France), with Camille Cottin and Fabrice Luchini, announced as a pastiche of Star Wars…

“We are particularly proud of this year’s selection, which achieves the best possible balance between authors we admire and cherish, and powerful new voices in the independent cinema landscape,” said artistic director Carlo Chatrian on Monday, who is in his last year at the helm of the Berlinale.

Chatrian also unveiled on Monday the works of the parallel section Encounters, including the first film by French writer Christine Angot, A family, autobiographical documentary around the theme of incest. Several other films have already been announced in recent weeks, including that of Quebecer Philippe Lesage (Demons, Genesis), which will present Like fire in the Generation section, dedicated to young audiences. An honorary Golden Bear will also be awarded to American master Martin Scorsese.

Will Meryam Joobeur win the first Quebec Golden Bear for feature film since The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Ted Kotcheff in 1974? The Press will be on hand to answer the question.

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