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BERLINALE 2024 Competition

Review: Who Do I Belong To

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- BERLINALE 2024: Meryam Joobeur makes an accomplished first feature film with a thrilling and atmospheric story boldly blending realism, oneirism, the family microcosm and jihadi themes

Review: Who Do I Belong To
Salha Nasraoui and Rayen Mechergui in Who Do I Belong To

"What’s wrong?" When you want to know the truth but you’re also terrified of it because it would mean taking a long, painful look at yourself, the risk of the situation deteriorating definitely intensifies. And when maternal love, family ties, friendship and memories come to collide with a reality which is beyond us, danger looms large. It’s into this complex and hazy zone that Canadian-Tunisian director Meryam Joobeur has decided to venture in her first feature film, the spellbinding Who Do I Belong To [+see also:
interview: Meryam Joobeur
film profile
]
, which was unveiled in competition at the 74th Berlinale.

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Stylised to the extreme yet also anchored in a very down-to-earth realism, the film is indisputable proof of a decidedly ingenious director who is skilled at suggesting metaphors without ever fully expanding on them. Flirting with fantasy and investigative genres, fear and mysteries, the recent geopolitical situation (Daesh) and pastoral life in a little village, the director never loses her thread (a mother’s love and a family facing unprecedented dilemmas) but instead twists it until the boundary between dream (nightmare) and reality is made uncommonly porous, guaranteeing irresistible suspense for the audience.

"If they come back, they’ll go to prison." Mehdi (Malek Mechergui) and Amine (Chaker Mechergui), the eldest of Aïcha (Salha Nasraoui) and Brahim’s (Mohamed Hassine Grayaa) children, have run away, joining Daesh and leaving their parents and their younger brother Adam (Rayen Mechergui) to their simple daily life as shepherds in northern Tunisia, just a stone’s throw from the sea. Why did they leave? Will they come back? Are they dead? For Aïcha, the emotional wound runs unbearably deep and is a source of conflict (whose fault is it?) for her and her husband, whose pride is decimated and who subsequently transfers his affections to police officer Bilal (Adam Bessa), a childhood friend of the afore-mentioned runaways. Adam, meanwhile, who’s still wrapped up in innocent games, is told that his brothers are living in Italy. But one day, Mehdi reappears without his brother, announcing the latter’s death and accompanied by the highly mysterious Reem (Dea Liane) who is pregnant and veiled from head to toe. The couple move in and hide, protected by Aïcha, but other onerous secrets are yet to resurface, and some strange and troubling phenomena start to unfold all around them…

Divided into three chapters ("the consequences", "an emerging shadow" and "the awakening"), Who Do I Belong To is especially remarkable for its original visual approach, moving up incredibly close to its characters so as to achieve powerful minimalist intensity (through movements, looks), amplified by uncanny immersions in the natural world (water, the beach, the sea, animals, etc.) which the director plays with in order to distort reality. Shot through with powerful dreamlike scenes, the methodical story (the screenplay of which comes courtesy of the filmmaker) also includes flashbacks which never reveal too much about this work, instead maintaining its mysterious potential. Both a journey into the female subconscious and a parable on losing our bearings and matters of conscience, not to mention wider societal and political issues, the film (which is very well acted by a mix of professional and non-professional actors) holds its cards perfectly close to its chest right on through to the end, thanks to an undeniably talented filmmaking approach which might also be deemed a little too wily (the film’s stylisation, which is pushed to its limits, and the fantasy side of things occasionally feel like very convenient exit routes). But, in a first feature film, an overabundance of ability is never a disadvantage.

Produced by French firm Tanit Films together with Midi La Nuit (Canada) and Instinct Bleu (Tunisia), in co-production with 1888 Films (France), Godolphin Films (Tunisia) and Eye Eye Pictures (Norway), Who Do I Belong To is sold by Luxbox.

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(Translated from French)


Photogallery 22/02/2024: Berlinale 2024 - Who Do I Belong To

12 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.

Meryam Joobeur, Salha Nasraoui, Mohamed Hassine Grayaa, Adam Bessa
© 2024 Dario Caruso for Cineuropa - dario-caruso.fr, @studio.photo.dar, Dario Caruso

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