Bye Bye Tiberias: Generational memories of Palestinian women
In Bye Bye Tiberias, Hiam Abbass recalls her mother Nemat telling her, "Don't open the gates to past sorrow." It's something Nemat was told herself by her mother Um Ali but this documentary, directed by Abbass's daughter Lina Soualem, is designed to provoke a better understanding of her mother's maternal bloodline by opening the gates to their past and healing the wounds of fractured generations.
Using a poetic essay framing device, co-written by Soualem, Nadine Naous, and Gladys Joujou, the film takes a deeply personal approach to exploring her heritage, the "women who learned to leave everything and start anew," and the life events that paved the way for her mother to leave and become a successful actress in France and Hollywood.
"Bye Bye Tiberias is a beautiful portrait of four generations of women, the inherited trauma they carry and the bonds of love, shared history and memories that will always connect us to the family members who came before"
Most Palestinian stories of displacement, loss and grief can be traced back to the devastating Nakba of 1948 and Soualem's family is no different. Her great-grandparents were expelled from their home and farm in Tiberias after the newly established State of Israel launched catastrophic offences against the Palestinian people.
It had a traumatising effect on her great-grandfather Hosni, "who lost his mind and died of grief" once they relocated to the Palestinian village of Deir Hanna in Galilee.
While Soualem has little footage of her family before the 90s, she fills in the visual gaps using archive black and white film of the displacement, the war and the Palestinian people as her mother reads the letter her daughter penned about her great-grandmother Um Ali.
Um Ali was a seamstress who raised her eight children, including Soualem’s grandmother Nemat, on her own. Nemat, had ten children herself, with her husband, and managed to achieve her dream of becoming a teacher despite her education being disrupted by the Arab-Israeli War.
Nemat makes several appearances with her daughter as Soulam probes deeper into why Abbass felt the need to escape village life in her early 20s, briefly experiencing estrangement from her family.
The anchor of this documentary, Abbass goes through an emotional personal reckoning as she is confronted by loss, memories and her daughter's questions. Mostly, the actor is game for exploration.
She helps Lina put family photos on walls, gives her a tour of Lake Tiberias and their family home, recites her teen poetry and even puts her acting skills to cathartic use by reenacting moments from her past.
In one charged scene, Abbass returns to the Palestinian National Theatre in Jerusalem and performs the moment she asked her father for his blessing to marry her first husband – an Englishman. Her old friend Amer, as her father, walks out leaving Abbass quietly pensive as the camera keeps close to her face.
In an earlier scene, Abbass returns to their Deir Hanna home and bursts into tears. Nemat has died and now they need to ready the house for sale. Soualem asks why they don't keep it. Abbass says, "This house has no meaning without her."
It's a frequently gut-wrenching watch, especially when it gets to the story of Abbass's aunt who was separated from her family during the Nakba, was forced to live in a Syrian refugee camp ever since and refused her right of return. Yet lightness and humour between Abbass and her sisters, punctuate the moving familial excavation. As do the happy home videos of the director as a child playing with her cousins, relatives and mother in the house she grew up in.
Bye Bye Tiberias is a beautiful portrait of four generations of women, the inherited trauma they carry and the bonds of love, shared history and memories that will always connect us to the family members who came before.
Hanna Flint is a film and TV critic, writer and author of Strong Female Character with bylines at Empire, Time Out, Elle, Town & Country, the Guardian, BBC Culture and IGN
Follow her here: @HannaFlint