Who Do I Belong To


Reviewed by: Sergiu Inizian

Who Do I Belong To?
"Starting as a refined drama about a broken Tunisian family, the narrative becomes a complex meditation on attachment and motherhood, all encompassed by a remarkable female lead."

Through evocative imagery and simmering emotion, director Meryam Joobeur crafts a mesmerising story of fractured relationships and vengeful violence. Focusing on the repercussions of two sons abandoning their rural home to engage in war, her feature debut increasingly becomes more visceral. Starting as a refined drama about a broken Tunisian family, the narrative becomes a complex meditation on attachment and motherhood, all encompassed by a remarkable female lead.

The gruelling burden of a broken family is felt from the very first minutes we see Aïcha (Salha Nasraoui), who aches for the safe return of her sons. Telling close-ups of her dispirited expression mark a deep internal struggle, Joobeur focusing on a motherly love which brims on obsession and outweighs the worry of the other family members. Brahim (Mohamed Hassine Grayaa), burying his conflicting emotions in farm work, can't begin to fathom what will happen if his older sons return, especially after talking to local authorities. Consumed by the familial trauma, Adam (Rayen Mechergui) simply longs for the presence of his brothers. Feeling fearful, a sentiment which is engendered in him by a family that seems on the brink, his small part is one of resilience in the face of a spectre of violence that haunts his future.

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Who Do I Belong To possesses a lingering atmospheric nature that intensifies a familial tension which threatens to end in confrontation. The vivid combination of crimson and purple transports the viewer into a dreamlike realm that feels like an extension of Aïcha's visions. Recognised in the village as a clairvoyant, she refuses to tell a neighbour what she sees in her son's future, who has chosen a similar path to Aïcha's boys. By turning down her friend’s request, the protagonist staves off any possibility regarding the fate of her children. In a twist of fate, destiny stares back at her and delivers one of her sons from the throes of violence.

The almost ethereal presence of Mehdi (Malek Mechergui) and Reem (Dea Liane) his silent wife haunts the household. Aïcha and the others are joyful about his return but feel unable to speak to the man and his mysterious wife who seems to have a strange power over his decisions. In his absence, a sense of borrowed family has emerged, Bilal (Adam Bessa) his childhood friend being embraced by the grieving family. The man attempts to reconnect with Mehdi, but as if under a spell, the reticent man refuses to discuss the circumstances of his return. Bilal, a police officer, starts to suspect his friend's reappearance is linked to a string of vanishings, slowly withdrawing from the family that once offered him their generosity.

Following his seemingly futile investigation, the director plunges into a oneiric portrayal of loss and disbelief. Bilal’s mission for truth coincides with Aïcha's increasingly striking visions of Amine (Chaker Mechergui), the brother whose fate remains questionable. Out-of-focus close-ups, paired with a palette that alternates between different shades of scarlet capture the attention with chilling intensity. As the truth begins to unfold, Peter Venne’s ominous score highlights a palpable need for clarity, an urgency met with a rising tide of violence.

While cryptic at times, Who Do I Belong To challenges the viewer with a compelling portrait of cruelty and its many faces. The mystifying chromatic vision and touching ensemble cast engage the spectators and accompany them through a reverie of haunting beauty. At the centre of the dreamlike experience, Nasraoui’s subtle facial expressions highlight a deep longing for a united family which has been torn apart by the unexplained lure of violence.

Reviewed on: 23 Feb 2024
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Aïcha longs for the return of her oldest sons, Mehdi and Amine, who abandoned the household in search of war. Upon Mehdi's return, a looming darkness surfaces.

Director: Meryam Joobeur

Writer: Meryam Joobeur

Starring: Salha Nasraoui, Mohamed Grayaâ, Malek Mechergui, Adam Bessa, Dea Liane, Rayene Mechergui, Mariem Jlassi Akkari, Neji Kanaweti, Hélène Catzaras, Noomen Hamda, Chakib Romdhani, Bahri Rahali, Imene Ghazouani

Year: 2024

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: Tunisia, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, France, Canada


BIFF 2024

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