Bye Bye Tiberias review – heartfelt memoir of Palestinian family reunion in Galilee

Estimated read time 2 min read

Hiam Abbass is the Franco-Palestinian actor who has been a consistent presence in international cinema for more than 20 years, but cut through ultimately with her role as Marcia Roy, wife of Brian Cox’s media potentate Logan Roy, in Jesse Armstrong’s hit HBO TV drama Succession. Now her own personal story emerges – partly – in this heartfelt cine-memoir directed by her daughter Lina Soualem, who was brought up in France.

This isn’t directly a story about what Palestinians call the Nakba or “catastrophe”: as a young woman, Abbass left her home village of Deir Hanna, near Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee’s western shore, to pursue an acting career in Europe. But now Soualem goes back there with Abbass to reconnect with her grandmother Nemat, Abbass’s mother, who has memories of Palestine before 1948 and the establishment of the state of Israel, and the film is an emotional multi-generational portrait. Abbass herself appears at first to have mixed feelings about this return, and is almost reticent on the subject; it was, after all, a place she yearned to leave, and where she found the patriarchal control of her destiny to be oppressive.

Abbass’s Wikipedia page actually lists one spouse (divorced): the French actor Zinedine Soualem, who is Lina’s father. But Bye Bye Tiberias talks about another man in her life; an Englishman called Michael, whose second name is not revealed, who was passionately in love with Abbass long before, and who it seems offered to convert to Islam if that was what it took to get married to her. Is that what happened? Where is Michael now? It isn’t entirely clear, and you leave the film with the (actually rather intriguing) sensation that not everything has been told.

Another type of documentary might have done more investigating on the subject of Michael, or even made his mysterious existence the film’s whole point. Well, this isn’t Lina Soualem’s purpose, and it’s an arresting family record.


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