Two Syrian Brothers Find Themselves in “We Are From There”

22 August, 2022
Milad Khawam in Berlin (pho­to cour­tesy Wis­sam Tanios).


We
Are From There/Loin de chez nous (2020)
A doc­u­men­tary direct­ed by Wis­sam Tanios
With Milad Khawam and Jamil Khawam
A Lebanese French copro­duc­tion, 82m

 

Angélique Crux

 

There are many fea­tures and doc­u­men­taries that tell the sto­ry of the Syr­i­an rev­o­lu­tion and the fate of Syr­i­an refugees mak­ing their way to Europe, but Wis­sam Tan­ios’ doc­u­men­tary, We Are From There is a depar­ture from the lot. The Beirut-born film­mak­er decid­ed to film his Dam­as­cus cousins Jamil and Milad over a five-year peri­od, from the time they flee Syr­ia, pass­ing through Lebanon on their way to new lives in Europe.

These two Syr­i­an broth­ers worked up the courage to leave home, and their cousin decid­ed to doc­u­ment their jour­ney with one-way tick­ets to Swe­den and Ger­many, respectively.

 

 

Tan­ios could have eas­i­ly fall­en into the trap of mak­ing a dog­mat­ic, polit­i­cal film, but instead traces his cousins’ lives in a deeply human man­ner, empha­siz­ing the details, the emo­tions, feel­ings and ges­tures often cap­tured not by a film cam­era, nec­es­sar­i­ly, but by cell phone footage, with the ben­e­fit of home movies and diaries. While at times the visu­al and sound qual­i­ty is lack­ing, the doc­u­men­tary dis­plays great con­fi­dence in its nar­ra­tion, and as a result, over time broth­ers Jamil and Milad con­fide in the direc­tor, their cousin, and deliv­er their deep­est secrets.

We Are From There/Loins de chez nous is win­ner of sev­er­al best doc­u­men­tary awards, includ­ing at the 2021 Arab Film Fes­ti­val Val de Fen­sch — Fameck (France), the 2021 Panora­ma des Ciné­mas du Maghreb et du Moyen-Ori­ent — Saint-Denis (France), and the 2020 Cairo Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val, Best Arab Film & Best Doc­u­men­tary Award.

Tan­ios as wit­ness to their jour­ney invites us to ques­tion our­selves on the right to build new lives else­where in the hope of a bet­ter future. He also exam­ines his own rela­tion­ship to his native Lebanon.

We are invit­ed to study the dif­fer­ences between Jamil the wood­work­er, crafts­man, who opts for life in Stock­holm ver­sus Milad, who blos­soms as a musi­cian in Berlin cre­at­ing a fusion of Ara­bic music, jazz and elec­tron­i­ca. One broth­er is prag­mat­ic, the oth­er is an artist and a dream­er, so we can expect they will approach their social inte­gra­tion dif­fer­ent­ly. Despite every­thing that sep­a­rates them, we feel their mutu­al need not to lose their iden­ti­ty, not to for­get the col­or of Dam­as­cus, nor the smell of wood from the car­pen­ter’s shop, passed down from father to son, the mag­i­cal place of their childhood.

Lat­er, when asked if he felt he had changed a great deal over the five years of the mak­ing of the film, Milad replied: “I have changed a lot actu­al­ly. I became a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent per­son. My aware­ness has increased; my per­cep­tion of the world has been enriched. My music has changed. My work has changed. My rela­tion­ship with the city [Berlin] has changed. Deep down, I made a con­scious deci­sion to change. I tried to do some things and it didn’t work out, and it hurt when it didn’t; and that’s what prompt­ed me to change. I had two choic­es: to get stronger and adapt to this new life, or just give up and go back home. I opt­ed for the former.”

His broth­er, Jamil, how­ev­er, argued that despite estab­lish­ing a new life in Swe­den, he hadn’t changed, real­ly, yet had evolved. “I did not change as a per­son; what did change per­haps are some ideas in my head,” he said in an inter­view with film crit­ic Joseph Fahim.

Even though Milad has found some suc­cess as a trum­petist in Berlin, he isn’t sure he’s there to stay. “I think I devel­oped this addic­tion for mov­ing to a new place every few years and start­ing all over again. Although my life is sta­ble in Berlin, I’m not entire­ly sat­is­fied. I now feel I want more. It’s impos­si­ble for me to feel at home here,” he told Fahim.

As Tan­ios’ film winds down, we find our­selves won­der­ing what will remain of our ori­gins, and what will we pass on? These are the fun­da­men­tal ques­tions that Jamil and Milad inevitably ask them­selves. Some­times falling into the abyss of despair, some­times find­ing love, this film of great mod­esty gives us chills about the con­di­tion of the migrant experience.

 

BeirutBerlinDamascusimmigrationmigrationrefugeesSwedenSyria

Angélique Crux is a humanist who considers herself above all a citizen of the world, enriched by encounters through numerous trips and currently living in the south of France. She is a committed mime artist who participates in artistic projects defending causes such as disability with the association Différent Comme Tout le Monde, and shipwrecked people at sea with the association SOS Méditerrannée, during events or in schools.

guest

3 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Reggad
1 month ago

Un bel arti­cle, plein de sen­si­bil­ité. Il donne envie de décou­vrir ce doc­u­men­taire. Merci.

Reggad
1 month ago

Si pos­si­ble, mer­ci de cor­riger mon com­men­taire : … doc­u­men­taire… Est le bon terme. Prob­lème de l’écri­t­ure intu­itive ! Merci

Grégory Dunesme
Grégory Dunesme
1 month ago

Mer­ci pour cette cri­tique qui donne le ton et explicite par­faite­ment le documentaire.