La Presse at the 74th Berlinale | The family we choose

(Berlin) In the middle of a sentence, the voice of Montrealer Meryam Joobeur broke. She had just invited the entire team of her first feature film to join her on stage at the Berlinale Palast, Where we come frompresented Thursday in the official competition of the 74e Berlin International Film Festival. She had also just greeted her family, present in the room, just after the credits and the loud applause from an audience still in shock.

Where we come from, a harsh, disturbing, heartbreaking, but also beautiful and poetic film, testifies to the strength of the bonds that unite a family and the unconditional and unquenchable love of a mother for a son. “The reason why I made this film is that I consider the family to be the bedrock of society. If we can heal a family, we can heal a society,” declared the 32-year-old filmmaker, her soft voice now calm again.

Meryam Joobeur had until then been a monument of calm and restraint, particularly at a press conference a few hours earlier. “She’s not nervous at all,” her friend Jacquelyn Mills, a Montreal filmmaker from Geographies of Solitude (presented at the Berlinale in 2022).

“I’m going to let you digest the film,” added Meryam Joobeur, beaming on stage, despite the emotion in her voice. A few hours later, I was still digesting this contemplative and enigmatic work, which could very well end up on the charts on Saturday evening.


Adam Bessa, Malek Mechergui in Where we come from

Co-produced by Canada, France and Tunisia, Where we come from features several of the same actors (Salha Nasraoui, Mohamed Hassine Grayaa as well as the brothers Malek, Rayen and Chaker Mechergui) from the brilliant short film Brotherhoodwhich earned the Quebec filmmaker of American-Tunisian origin a finalist for the Oscars in 2020.

One could even believe, wrongly, that the feature film whose working title was Motherhood is a retelling of the short film. We initially find the same Tunisian shepherd who has difficulty digesting the return to the village of his prodigal son who left to wage jihad in Syria, on the arm of a woman carrying a child and wearing a niqab. Where we come from is rather an outgrowth of Brotherhoodwithin the same family, but in a parallel universe.


Rayen Mechergui in Where we come from

The film, astonishing in its mastery and maturity, explores even more troubled areas. He is interested in how a mother views a son suffering from post-traumatic syndrome, a lost sheep struggling to reconnect with the flock, then a sacrificial lamb. It also looks at the prejudices that we all carry within us, the roots of evil, dehumanization in times of war and the way in which men silence women, making them bear the weight of their turpitude. .

It is in the subtle and dreamlike evocation of these complex and often painful subjects, in the singular way of approaching them, with an economy of words and a great respect for silence, as well as images that are never gratuitous, often symbolic and always meaningful. , which already stands out the strong signature of Meryam Joobeur.

Dressing wounds

The camera of cinematographer Vincent Gonneville, his collaborator for a decade, remains essentially as close as possible to extremely expressive characters, played by professional and non-professional actors inspired by the same accuracy of tone. It also embraces magnificent steep landscapes of northern Tunisia, by the sea.


Salha Nasraoui, Rayen Mechergui in Where we come from

“My family is all I have. So who do I belong to? “, asks Brahim, the closed-faced father of this family torn apart by extremism, and not just religious (the English title of the film is Who Do I Belong to?). This is a question that Meryam Joobeur also asks, who spent her early childhood in Tunisia, but grew up in the United States, where she was born during her father’s higher education studies, before arriving in Montreal for her studies. universities in 2009 and to settle there.

“I often have the impression of being somewhere in between, of not quite belonging to one culture or another,” she explained at a press conference on Thursday. It is also to heal wounds that she produced this fable with surrealist accents and not always clear contours (like the images of dreams or omens in her film), on the consequences of war, on the moral dilemmas which torment us, about the family we choose and about love, the real one, the one that often ends up hurting.

“For me, healing is the acceptance of pain,” says Meryam Joobeur. The more we flee from this pain, the more it consumes us. We must embrace the full spectrum of the possibility of being alive. » Did I tell you she was only 32?

Accommodation costs were paid by the Berlinale and by Telefilm Canada.

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