Previously known for her short films Gods, Weeds and Revolutions, and Born in the Maelstrom, Meryam Joobeur returns once again to mesmerize audiences with her short Brotherhood. The film premiered at TIFF and took home the award for Best Canadian Short Film in the Short Cuts Awards section.
Set in a rural region of Northern Tunisia, Brotherhood follows a family of six: mother Salha (Salha Nasraoui), father Mohamed (Mohamed Grayaâ), their three sons Malek (Malek Mechergui), Chaker (Chaker Mechergui), Rayene (Rayene Mechergui) and Malek’s Syrian wife, Reem (Jasmin Lazid). Joobeur is known for her approach on wider political issues via the exploration of familial dynamics. From unveiling the Tunisian experience of Ben Ali’s dictatorship by pairing a young woman with her Alzheimer-ridden grandfather and demonstrating her attempt to discover who he used to be before in Gods, Weeds, and Revolutions, to her investigation of a mother/daughter relationship as the daughter, a biracial woman, struggles to fit in within a modern, segregated society due to her inability to be placed within the African American/Caucasian binary, Joobeur utilizes her distinctive style to effectively narrate convoluted stories.
Though a son coming back home with his pregnant wife is usually a joyful moment, Malek’s comes with an underlying tension. Having fled to Syria to take part in the war, Malek’s character brings to the forefront the effect that religious radicalization has had on Tunisian youth. Following the lead of her previous short, Joobeur signals the strain of family ties in silent and transparent stares. Mohamed doesn’t welcome Malek. The moment he sees an unfamiliar white car in his yard, he takes a pause, and after he crosses his doorstep, unlike Chaker and Rayene, he neither hugs Malek nor smiles at him; his unblinking glare is that of shock and disdain. From then on, the family engages in silent and verbal disputes without resolution. Every performance follows through, whether it’s that of the acting veterans Nasraoui and Grayaâ, or the three Mechergui non-actor brothers.
Aside from the actors’ take on their characters, tension also rises from the film’s sound design. The short’s opening shot looks at a flock of sheep, which, after a car-door is shut off-camera, immediately scatter as if they sensed danger that is near. Even prior to the family’s introduction, the message is clear: Malek’s arrival will bring unease. This is a motif that keeps resurfacing each time Mohamed confronts Malek or his daughter-in-law Reem. From handmade chimes moving dissonantly and the wind blowing through the window’s curtain or through a bloody shirt that’s hanging on a string outside, Joobeur constantly uses signifiers of perpetual agitation. Tranquility is nowhere to be found until that climactic moment when silence becomes ominous rather than serene, followed by a breathless Mohamed running after a mistake he cannot fix.
Brotherhood is about the importance of mending wounds within the bounds of a family. It’s about the happy memories made while playing with the waves in a shore. But most of all, it’s an open display on how failing to forgive and forget can have terrible repercussions.