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BERLINALE 2024 Panorama

Myriam El Hajj • Director of Diaries from Lebanon

“I was inside the events and living through them with my characters”


- BERLINALE 2024: The director breaks down her portrait of the hardships that Lebanese society has gone through over the last few years

Myriam El Hajj • Director of Diaries from Lebanon
(© Dario Caruso/Cineuropa)

During the 74th Berlinale, Cineuropa chatted with Lebanese director Myriam El Hajj, who spent years filming events in her homeland and created a portrait of the hardships that the country’s society has gone through. Diaries from Lebanon [+see also:
film review
interview: Myriam El Hajj
film profile
was screened in the festival’s Panorama section.

Cineuropa: Was your film always supposed to take the form of a diary, with an added voice-over from you?
Myriam El Hajj:
In the beginning, I didn't know it would be present in the film. I felt that the protagonists were so present – and in a beautiful way, too – that I didn't have any place in the film. But then I started editing. I had 300 hours of rushes and ended up with four to five hours’ worth of film. I asked myself, “How do I cut this? How do I create an ellipsis?” And this is how the idea of a voice-over came to me. I also felt like I had more to say in this film than what I say through the characters.

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It feels like when you speak, you explain what it’s like to live under constant pressure and stress. The situation in Lebanon has been difficult for years; it’s not just one event that ended.
I found this subject deeply emotional – how to live daily life under such circumstances? And this is how we came up with the title. I didn’t want to do a voice-over just to give the audience information; I wanted to add my point of view on the events. When the revolution was happening, I was so happy; they were the best days of my life. Some of the things I say in the film are from the future – the Myriam who is talking knows a little bit more than the Myriam who took part in the events.

A lot has changed in Lebanon since you started shooting. Has the time that has passed given you a different perspective on things?
In the beginning, I didn’t know the country was collapsing. I understood that only later. What I knew was that I was making a film about three characters, out of which at least two – the women – are fighting to survive, to make a change, and they keep on dreaming about this change. That’s the strength of the film. I understood that very quickly, but I didn’t have my own point of view on all of this, because I was inside the events and living through them with my characters.

There are three leading characters: young artist Perla, politician Joumana and George, an older man who was involved in the civil war. Would you say that together, they represent collective Lebanese identity?
From my point of view, yes. But I never chose the characters because of this; I never said to myself that I wanted someone who was liberal and someone who was related to the civil war. It was more like the film “chose” the characters. For example, during the elections, I was filming many people from the same party, not just Joumana. She became a protagonist in the film because she was the only one to win elections and was ejected the next day. But of course, she also embodies a generation that doesn’t want the sectarian politics any more and who is a feminist. On the other hand, Perla represents the younger generation that doesn’t understand a thing about the war. Her parents didn’t explain to her what happened. When she was born, the same politicians were in power. She doesn’t understand why they’re still there, ruining our lives.

You discuss the events of the civil war with George, such as the bus incident that started it all. It seems like it’s shrouded in silence.
The people who were warlords back then are still in power, and they don’t want to talk about the past, so it’s a taboo. The civil war isn’t mentioned in the history books, because in Lebanon, they end before the times when it happened. So, we don’t talk about it publicly, and when we do, it’s because our parents were involved in it, and they told us bits and pieces. But the revolution was a turning point, and Perla’s generation, born after the civil war, started asking questions like: “Why are we electing the same people? We understand that they have blood on their hands, but why are they still in power?” And what I also wanted to say in the film through George is that the past isn’t told properly. In Lebanon, nobody knows about him or his responsibility for the bus incident. And I'm not sure that what he's saying is true, because the past is so blurry.

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