Bye Bye Tiberias (dir. Lina Soualem)

By: Adam Freed

Note to Reader: Ms. Soualem was kind enough to conduct an exclusive interview pertaining to her documentary film at the 59th Annual Chicago International Film Festival.  Her responses are embedded within this review.  

Long before international breakthrough star Hiam Abbass left Palestine to pursue her career in Paris, she knew that her choice of a western relocation and an Islamic converted husband, would permanently fracture her familial bond.  This is only one of the generationally deep wounds left to be unpacked in Lina Soualem’s poignant and deeply moving documentary Bye Bye Tiberias.  In an ode to four generations of  Palestinian women on her maternal side, the film proves to be a beautiful ode to femininity and family.  

30 years after her migration, Habbass and her daughter, documentary filmmaker Lina Soualem, return to Palestine in search of what remains of her deep roots in the arid Palestinian soil.  In an exclusive interview with Movie Archer Ms. Soualem expresses her film’s desire to honor her family and the global act of motherhood, “It is about the transmission between generations and how a mother is a daughter and then becomes a mother.  I think it is more than a transmission from woman to woman or mother to daughter, it is also how you keep your legacy alive through generations.  [Bye Bye Tiberias] tells more than just about personal memories, and the personal history of a family…”  Accounting for the many branches of this worn family tree is masterfully conducted by Soualem thanks to a mix of recent interviews, historic news footage and home video.  

Although Bye Bye Tiberias doesn’t linger on the current political struggle in the region, it cannot avoid it completely.  In one poignant moment Habbass stands upon a rooftop and points to the peaks of surrounding mountains identifying the tight visual proximity of the borders closing around her childhood home.  Counterbalancing the regional realities of Palestine are the documentary’s inclusion of Soualem’s mother and aunts, who provide temporary levity as they laugh together uncontrollably in the telling of worn out family stories.  Yet Soualem’s voiceover cautions, “Beyond our smiles, I know the fear that sleeps inside of us.”  There is an intense and unspoken understanding that their home, their land, their history is on the continual brink of extinction.  Film art is not enough to solve the conflict along the Israeli Palestinian border, but it can provide meaningful insight to global citizens that no people can be categorized by a single moment in time, or broad generalizations.  Bye Bye Tiberias is a must see for those in search of the humanizing story of a historically war torn region, if only to illuminate the shared commonality faced by families regardless of borders.  Quite profoundly Ms. Soualem concludes, “It becomes an echo of the collective memory of a people.”

Target Score: 8/10 - Documentary filmmaker Lina Soualem returns to Palestine with her mother, and international film star Hiam Abbass, in search of the deep family roots that were left behind when Abbass migrated to Paris three decades prior.  Bye Bye Tiberias is a thoughtful and heartfelt ode to femininity and motherhood regardless of borders.