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BERLINALE 2024 Panorama

Review: Diaries from Lebanon


- BERLINALE 2024: The efforts to live a relatively normal life amidst the unstable realities of Lebanon are at the heart of the socially engaged documentary by Myriam El Hajj

Review: Diaries from Lebanon

In the new documentary by director Myriam El Hajj, which was shown in the Berlinale’s Panorama section, the titular Diaries from Lebanon [+see also:
interview: Myriam El Hajj
film profile
are penned with anger, frustration and sadness.

The picture follows the daily life of three characters for a period of over four years, as her country grapples with revolutions, the catastrophic explosion in Beirut in 2020, the brutal economic crisis and more. Said characters are forty-something politician Joumana Haddad, artist from the younger generation Pearla Joe, and a veteran of the Lebanese Civil War, George, who had the nom de guerre Father of the Night because, during the conflict, he didn’t sleep at all.

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They all have their own story to tell and their own take on the political situation, but also, their voices, when blended with El Hajj’s voice-over, paint a bigger, overarching picture of the collective psyche; they give a sense of what it is like to live in a country torn apart by constant conflict, somewhere that has a convoluted, blurry past. Moving forward feels like trudging through mud that can easily become quicksand. Pearla is filled with anger and frustration that her life is shaped by politics and lacks freedom of expression, and her pain is palpable through the camera lens. Joumana withdraws from politics, and it’s not difficult to empathise with her choice.

And George? He reminisces about the past, including the incident that started the civil war, involving a bus that – he claims – he shot at. With the empty gesture of a has-been hero, he brags about how he would be able to manage the current revolution much better than those who are leading the protests. Whenever he talks about the past, El Hajj’s documentary feels a bit like an investigative documentary, adding another layer to the narrative. She adds the essential context here, so that it’s easier to follow the historical twists and turns in Lebanon. What facilitates the connection with a story, as such, is El Hajj’s voice-over, in which she talks about her political and private feelings, filling in the gaps between what the female characters – Joumana and Pearla – express.

Diaries from Lebanon is a precise and moving documentary, which, by looking at tectonic social events through people’s daily lives, and not the other way around, resonates deeply. Not all is grim in the film, though: there are glimpses of triumph or hope, even if they only last for just a moment, like when Joumana wins a seat in parliament in 2018, only for the authorities to deem the voting results invalid the next day; or when the camera portrays the energy of the young people screaming and singing on the streets during the revolution. If there’s hope for change, it lies in them.

Diaries from Lebanon is a Lebanese-French-Qatari-Saudi Arabian co-production staged by Abbout Productions and Gogogo Films, with MAD Solutions handling the world sales.

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Photogallery 21/02/2024: Berlinale 2024 - Diaries from Lebanon

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

Myriam El Hajj
© 2024 Dario Caruso for Cineuropa -,, Dario Caruso

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