(Lebanon/USA, 91 min.)
Dir. Jude Chehab
“You see this and you think it’s so green and full, but then you open it to find out it’s empty,” says Hiba in Q. “There are certain people in this world who are like that. Well dressed and put together, they have cars and homes, but on the inside… they are empty.”
Q, directed by Lebanese-American filmmaker Jude Chehab in her feature documentary debut, brings a story of homecoming to Toronto’s Reel Asian International Film Festival. Chehab goes back home to Lebanon to share the story of herself, her mother and grandmother, and reveals their strong connections with the Islamic women’s group Qubaysiat. Chehab captures this film in a respectful manner by living with her mother and recording day to day conversations, as well as mixing between archival footage and abstract shots with Muslim women on top of a grassy hill. Chehab represents Muslim women in closed communities and their love and faith for religion. However, she also reveals the amount of misery and pain that can come with these groups.
Chehab’s mother, Hiba, is the main figure in this documentary. After spending many years following the Anisa, comparable to her teacher, and being kicked out of the group, Hiba struggles with the connection with herself and her faith. She reads poems and letters that were written by her for the Anisa, which reveals how influential this group was in her life. However, it is later revealed that this kind of influence was dangerous for her since it was a form of entrapment. Chehab’s Teta, or grandmother, is another figure in this documentary and explains to Jude the amount of support one receives from these groups. She recalls how happy it made her and Hiba, the feeling of being accepted and welcomed, almost like a second family. Her grandmother also touches upon that not all love and happiness can be healthy depending on the long term impact it has.
Chehab also plays on the theme of secrecy in the group and her own family throughout the film. The documentary is cut in a nonlinear way since it goes back and forth between poems, everyday living and conversations taking place in her home. Secrets are also shared more as Hiba and her mother become comfortable on camera. There are also moments between Hiba and her husband that expose their true thoughts about Hiba’s past with the group. It is very interesting to see when a family clearly has so much love for each other but they are very closed off about their private lives when it comes to religion. Chehab’s intimate portrait invites one to weigh the impact that being kicked from the group had on Hiba’s life, as she becomes more open to share more about her feelings and experiences.
Q’s visual style is very raw and intimate with the close up shots of individuals and casual dialogue between family members, as well as Chehab following her mother place to place as she teaches the Quran to other students. While there are sit-down interviews in which Chehab converses with her family members, they’re not overly formal, which preserves that feeling of closeness. The warm and airy cinematography makes a viewer feel welcomed into the family’s home and become one with the family.
The emphasis on family and relationships offer windows through which audiences can access the comfortable yet complex story regardless of their faith. The high attention to detail between the cinematography, colour grading, music and editing really allow you to understand Chehab’s family and their dilemmas between the religious group and their own family living. Through any ups and downs they may have, they will always be there to support one another. It can also show the amount of emotion one has when they are truly connected and in love with a community.