Exploring the Impact of Radical Islam: A Critical Analysis of ‘Who Do I Belong To’

A critical examination of Meryam Joobeur’s debut film ‘Who Do I Belong To’, which explores the effects of radical Islam on a Tunisian family. The article discusses the film’s heavy-handed approach, use of symbolism, and misguided plot choices.

Exploring the Impact of Radical Islam: A Critical Analysis of ‘Who Do I Belong To’

In Meryam Joobeur’s debut feature film, ‘Who Do I Belong To’ (Mé el Aïn), a Tunisian family is torn apart when their two eldest sons join ISIS, leaving their household in ruins. The film delves into the trauma inflicted upon families by Islamic extremism, as well as the underlying traumas that may have led to such a drastic turn. However, despite its serious subject matter and meticulous craftsmanship, the film falls short in convincingly depicting the effects of radical Islam on a well-meaning family.

Exploring the Impact of Radical Islam: A Critical Analysis of 'Who Do I Belong To' - -658403730

( Credit to: Hollywoodreporter )

Comparisons can be drawn between ‘Who Do I Belong To’ and the Oscar-nominated documentary ‘Four Daughters,’ as both films explore the impacts of Islamic extremism on families. However, the approaches taken by the two films couldn’t be more different. While ‘Four Daughters’ is a self-reflective work of nonfiction, blending real people with trained actors to analyze events, ‘Who Do I Belong To’ is a highly stylized work of fiction that ventures into the realm of magical realism in its final act.

A Heavy-handed Approach: Symbolism and Close-ups

The heavy-handedness of the drama in ‘Who Do I Belong To’ is one of its drawbacks. The director relies on symbolism, a brooding score, and an abundance of close-ups to convey the anguish and sorrow experienced by the characters. This approach, coupled with the film’s ill-advised shift towards an M. Night Shyamalan-style ending, detracts from the emotional impact of the material.

Shattered Lives: A Family in Ruins

The story begins with Aïcha, a mother of three, and her husband Brahim, who run a modest farm near the Mediterranean Sea. Their lives are shattered when they learn that their two older sons, Mehdi and Amine, have joined ISIS. The film’s cinematography, helmed by DP Vincent Gonneville, utilizes saturated colors and tight close-ups, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere. While this may have been an intentional choice by Joobeur, it limits the film’s ability to breathe and evolve organically. The constant score by Peter Venne further reinforces the film’s somber tone.

Aïcha, Brahim, and their youngest son, Adam, find themselves trapped in an unbearable situation. Mehdi eventually returns home, accompanied by his silent niqab-clad wife, Reem. Mehdi, deeply traumatized by his experiences as an ISIS combatant, remains largely silent throughout the film. Joobeur gradually reveals key information about Mehdi’s past through flashbacks, depicting the horrors of joining ISIS in a war-torn environment. While the film effectively portrays the atrocities committed by the terrorist organization, it ultimately feels like an obvious message.

Impact on Innocent Lives: Exploring the Fallout

The film also explores how ISIS’ actions impact innocent Muslims like Aïcha and Brahim, who are simply trying to make a living and raise their children. Unfortunately, the film’s third act shifts focus to a local murder mystery involving Mehdi and Reem, before transitioning once again to supernatural elements. These plot mechanics muddy the waters and detract from the film’s central theme, even if they aim to emphasize the lasting effects of wartime trauma.

A Missed Opportunity: Lack of Emotional Impact

In conclusion, ‘Who Do I Belong To’ tackles a weighty subject matter but falls short in its execution. The heavy-handed approach, reliance on symbolism, and misguided plot choices hinder the film’s ability to fully explore the impact of radical Islam on a well-meaning family. Despite its intense craftsmanship, the film lacks the emotional impact necessary to deliver its message effectively.

What do you think?

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