Berlinale 2024 Review: WHO DO I BELONG TO, Lyrical Drama Explores Radical Family Ties

Contributor; Slovakia (@martykudlac)
Berlinale 2024 Review: WHO DO I BELONG TO, Lyrical Drama Explores Radical Family Ties

In her debut film Who Do I Belong To, Tunisian-born, Canada-based filmmaker Meryam Joober explores the poignant narrative of Aicha, a mother faced with the daunting reality of her sons' association with ISIS. The film is set in the tranquil yet secluded northern landscape of Tunisia.

Joober examines themes of identity, maternal affection, and the pervasive impact of conflict on both a family and a small rural community. Central to the narrative is Aicha's complex journey as she attempts to reconcile her love for her son, Mehdi, who unexpectedly returns home with a pregnant wife from Syria, leading to a series of enigmatic disappearances that shroud the village.

The inception of Meryam Joober's first film originated from an impromptu road trip across Tunisia with her cinematographer, Vincent Gonneville. This expedition revealed the foundational elements for her story, highlighting the grave reality of young men from rural areas joining ISIS and the resultant turmoil faced by their families, encompassed by confusion, shame, and untold stories.

Aicha (played by Salha Nasraoui) and her husband Brahim (Salha Nasraoui) reside on a modest farm near the Mediterranean Sea. The film commences as Aicha, Brahim, and their youngest child, Adam (Rayen Mechergui), are seen working on their farm, with Adam frequently inquiring about the whereabouts of his two older brothers.


Their absence is shrouded in a silence, leaving Adam anticipating their return each day. However, the parents are confronted with a dire situation, as revealed through flashbacks: their sons, Mehdi (Malek Mechergui) and Amine (Chaker Mechergui), left to join ISIS. Should they attempt to return, they would face arrest by local authorities, presenting a no-win scenario for the family.

To the astonishment of Aicha and Brahim, their son Mehdi unexpectedly returns to the family farm one day, accompanied by his pregnant wife, Reem (Dea Liane) with her peircing eyes. The reunion is subdued; while Adam is delighted to reconnect with his brother, the parents are confronted with complex choices, including the need to conceal Mehdi and Reem, who does not utter a single word. Although Aicha experiences a sense of joy despite the potential consequences, the question of Amine's whereabouts hangs in the air, unanswered by a visibly distressed Mehdi, hinting at grim realities.

Who Do I Belong To unfolds as a measured drama, employing flashbacks, an unreliable narrator, and the pervasive presence of trauma to weave a narrative that juxtaposes a mother's experience with a more tumultuous female perspective. This approach facilitates an exploration of themes such as womanhood, personal identity, and societal constructs, framing the story within the dichotomy of these diverse female experiences.


Upon Mehdi's return, the film transitions from a social family drama to a psychological drama imbued with elements of crime and mystery. Joober's narrative style is not static; rather, it evolves, gaining depth through the addition of layers that include the unspoken tension between Mehdi and his mute wife.

Furthermore, the director navigates a range of emotional textures, moving from the initially serene pastoral setting to the internal turmoil experienced by the mother, who maintains a composed exterior. This progression leads to the external manifestation of trauma, guilt, grief, and violence in the subsequent acts of the film.

The film transitions smoothly from its first to second act, foregrounding the enigma of the still silent wife and the absent Amine. However, the third act marks a significant shift, breaking the film's contemplative quietude as it brings the characters' profound emotional scars into stark relief in a dramatic manner.

Notably, Joober introduces elements of horror to this pastoral narrative, weaving social realism with dreamlike symbolism. This approach intensifies as the story progresses to the nighmarish denouement, making a striking departure in both style and narrative direction. This shift aligns with the anticipated severity of the characters' experiences with ISIS, juxtaposed against the tranquil backdrop of farm life.

The director engages with the theme of Islamic radicalization in a manner that is both subtle and explicit, eschewing sensationalism in favor of exploring the universal appeal of extremism as a sanctuary for those in search of meaning, community, or an expression of their disillusionment.

Who Do I Belong To delivers a poignant and contemplative examination of the effects of conflict on a family, delving into the intricacies of identity and the potency of maternal affection considering broader themes of belonging, identity, and the enduring strength of the human spirit. Joober combines the lyrical tones with harrowing imagery seamlessly merging drama with genre filmmaking for not only a political but also a social statement.

Screen Anarchy logo
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.
Berlinale 2024Malek MecherguiMeryam JoobeurMohamed GrayaâSalha Nasraoui

More about Who Do I Belong To

Around the Internet