Immigration is most often depicted from the perspective of the people who left their home country, following their dreams or in search of a better life. Very rarely do we get to see the effect it has on the people who are left behind, especially loved ones. In Beity, writer/director (and editor) Isabelle Mecattaf paints the emotionally complex portrait of a mother hopelessly waiting for her daughter to return home.
It comes as no surprise to hear from Mecattaf that the film is deeply inspired by her own life. “When I set out to make this film, Lebanon had had a particularly difficult year”, she shares with S/W. While the film is not about the events that shook Lebanon in 2019 and 2020, it was hearing her parents begging her “never to come back to a country that has no future” that triggered the question: “We are forced to abandon the parents who have loved us, cared for us, inspired our dreams and supported us, but then what happens to them?”.
While there is a main protagonist, Roula, the film also has another mother, Alya, who works for her in her house. The relationship between the two works to subtly infuse, the nuances and ambivalence of Roula’s character. A mother who is on one hand proud of her daughter but on the other devastated and lonely in what she calls “beity” – my home. What’s even more fascinating in her character is how she chooses to deal with said ambivalence, refusing to show her vulnerabilities or display truly how hurt she is. Instead, she conceals it all by being unpleasant, asserting some kind of authority in another way or having a questionable sense of humor.
The fact that Alya’s daughter returns to visit her parents completely throws off their power dynamic and cleverly shows that the mother/child bond can be one of life’s most precious things. Not only does the film capture the experience of a certain generation of Lebanese immigrants, it has an undeniable universality and feels like an odd yet deeply effective love letter to the selfless yet flawed women who support us and have put our futures first (although, this might be me projecting on my own relationship with my mother onto the story).
At the center of the film, Julia Kassar’s performance as Roula is incredibly magnetic, bringing her personality to life with a poignant and effective sensitivity. When her character hides how she truly feels, Kassar successfully communicates her inner turmoil through her performance. Her loneliness is deeply compelling and she uses her character’s flaws to embody her multidimensionality. Shot on 16mm, DP Mélanie Akoka’s cinematography translates Roula’s feelings perfectly, while also creating a captivating visual aesthetic that strengthens the emotional depth of the film.
Beity had its World Premiere at the 2021 edition of TIFF before making its online debut as part of The New Yorker Screening Room. Mecattaf is currently working on her first feature, a family drama also set in Lebanon, which chronicles the aftermath of the 2020 explosion and the economic collapse that she describes as “the banality of surviving a catastrophic event and the life that goes on after the media has lost interest”.