Connect with us
Meryam Joobeur Who Do I Belong To Review


Who Do I Belong To | 2024 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Who Do I Belong To | 2024 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Return of the Soldier: Joobeur Explores Ghosts of War

Meryam Joobeur Who Do I Belong To Review Matriarchs confronted by their radicalized children have slowly and painstaking formed a cinematic subgenre of their own in the past twenty years since the emergence of The Islamic State. Adding to this conversation is Who Do I Belong To (Mé el Aïn), a graceful, haunting ghost story by Tunisian-born filmmaker Meryam Joobeur, her narrative feature debut. Unspooling in three chapters, a Tunisian mother is conflicted when one of her prodigal sons returns from war, a presence which throws a dark shadow over their small community as she struggles to understand what has happened. With greater understanding, tragedy, of course, is unavoidable, but Joobeur’s approach allows for some surprising exploration of guilt and regret as a tangible, corporeal energy persisting beyond a point of no return.

Aicha (Salha Nasraoui) and her husband Brahim (Mohamed Grayaâ) live with their young son Adam (Rayene Mechergui) in their close knit Tunisian village. Theirs seems a life of pleasantry, sharing a warm rapport with their neighbors, including Bilal (Adam Bessa), who often visits, sharing a bond with Adam. But suddenly, their son Mehdi (Malek Mechergui) returns after having joined the Islamic State, having fled with his brother Amine, who is now dead. With him is a mysterious woman, Reem (Dea Liane), who he introduces as his pregnant wife. Since the authorities have been looking for Mehdi and Amine, the family must keep the return a secret, despite Brahim wanting them gone. Convincing her husband they must at least stay until the baby is born, Aicha eventually learns Mehdi’s troubling secrets.

There are some pertinent similarities between Who Do I Belong To and Kaouther Ben Hania’s experimental docudrama Four Daughters (2023), each dealing with a Tunisian mother who’s lost two older children to ISIS and now struggling to understand how to protect what remains. And much like Astrid Whettnall in Rachid Bouchareb’s Road to Istanbul (2016) and Catherine Deneuve in Andre Techine’s Farewell to the Night (2019), Salha Nasraoui is forced into a despairing position of running interference between family and authorities in a last ditch attempt to save a compromised child. Nasraoui is compelling as the film’s emotional core, gently questioning, though not pressing too hard for fear of further unsettling an already tenuous situation. This is exacerbated by the death of her other son, Amine, who fled with Mehdi in the film’s opening moments, while the family was distracted by preparations to attend a wedding.

As a family friend and surrogate older brother to a young boy whose own indoctrination may be imminent, Adam Bessa’s Bilal has secrets of his own, but is treated by Brahim as the son he might have preferred to have. Bessa, who recently headlined Harka (2022), similarly plays a gentle persona feeling responsible for the care of others, and could have potentially felt more entangled with this family than he ultimately does.

While we’re left to contemplate the layered ripples of the question asked by the film’s title, Joobeur confirms the film’s eerie energies in the third act when other villagers mysteriously disappear and the reality of Mehdi’s wife is made known, reminiscent of something like the Alice Krige character in Ghost Story (1981). By the time the inevitability of the finale comes around, with Aicha absconding into the fields, as if to return to the soil herself, Who Do I Belong To reveals that, ultimately, there’s no resolution. Merely continuation.

Reviewed on February 22nd at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival – Main Competition section. 117 mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

Click to comment

More in Reviews

To Top