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Film Critique: Farewell Tiberias (2023) directed by Lina Soualem
Film Critique: Farewell Tiberias (2023) directed by Lina Soualem

Film Critique: Farewell Tiberias (2023) directed by Lina Soualem

Examines inherited traumas, grievances, and experiences that have been transmitted through multiple generations.

In Lina Soualem’s documentary, the viewer is transported to 1992 through archival footage of Lake Tiberias in Palestine. Despite appearing ordinary, these images hold great significance as they connect us to a world that no longer exists. Through the lens of the director’s family story, we are presented with a narrative of a country ravaged by war.

The movie will be shown in NYC on January 12 and in Los Angeles on January 19.

Hiam Abbass, most known for her role in the show “Succession,” left Palestine to pursue her acting career in Paris over 30 years ago. This decision had a significant impact on her life, causing her to feel disconnected from her hometown and estranged from her family. In the film “Bye Bye Tiberias,” directed by Lina Soualem (who is also Abbass’ daughter), the protagonist is forced to confront her past through old photos, family members, and visits to her childhood home. What makes this film unique is that Abbass’ memories are tied to a place that has undergone significant changes over the years, with ongoing media coverage of the current crisis and Israel’s aggression towards Palestine adding to the tension. While the conflict with Israel is briefly mentioned, the focus of the film is on personal memories and family relationships.

“Bye Bye Tiberias” provides a unique perspective on the current atrocities committed by Israel in Palestine by focusing on personal experiences and historical context. The conflict has traditionally been portrayed through grand political lenses and with a male-centric narrative. The inclusion of this conflict in “Bye Bye Tiberias” may seem out of place, as the director appears to have little interest in discussing it or deliberately avoids mentioning it altogether.

The film explores these topics by interviewing the director and her mother about their memories. The perspectives of the grandmother and great-grandmother add depth to the story and evoke more emotions in this warm family portrait. As a result, the voices of marginalized Palestinian women are prominently featured. The film has a nostalgic and poetic quality, thanks to the use of archival footage and intimate camera shots.

The director explores the traumas, grievances, and experiences passed down through generations in this family saga. The documentary takes on a meandering structure, providing snippets of memories rather than a linear narrative. Despite being a mix of harrowing, moving, and humorous anecdotes shared by Abbass with her daughter, the film does not follow a clear storyline. Instead, the protagonist’s memories are brought to life through old letters and photographs, appearing and disappearing abruptly. While “Bye bye Tiberias” attempts to consolidate four generations of women’s histories, watching it may feel like playing a game of pinball. Soualem jumps between different stories, hinting at some and abandoning others, creating a stream-of-consciousness-like sequence. This reflects the chaotic nature of memory and was likely the director’s storytelling strategy. “Bye bye…” immerses the viewer in this chaotic thought process.

Although the threat of war is ever-present, the movie concludes with a peaceful feeling. The scene of Hiam Abbass gazing at the titled lake conveys the nostalgia, grief, and affection that unite this chaotic portrayal of a family.