Movie Review: Q

Screened at El Gouna Film Festival 2023

One-liner: While distant and obscured, this remains a haunting, intimate and wistful family portrait documentary.

Q is an intimate biographical family portrait centred on a mother’s devotion to a religious sect in Syria. Taken from the director’s own experiences of her mother, this deeply personal documentary explores how Hiba’s unflappable commitment to the all-female sect has impacted her relationship with her daughter and that of her family. Directed and written by June Chehab, this is a haunting exploration of family dynamics, showing how a mother’s choice to prioritise her faith has had a direct and lasting effect on them all.

Starting with a shot of Hiba reading the letter that signaled her “excommunication” from the sect, the documentary reveals a woman still deeply hurt and at odds, trying to make sense of her deviation and rejection. Hiba is wrapped up in her own thoughts and trying to make peace with herself in a futile quest in which she’ll never truly arrive. She comes across as a husk, struggling to make real connections with her husband, daughter and son. Alienated by her ghostly presence, the family strive to come to terms with their own feelings around her current disposition in the aftermath of the separation.

Chehab has created a hauntingly beautiful and even soul-stirring documentary, which has a poetic temperament. Beginning with an artful edge, this aesthetic is carried through as shot composition and wistful scenes capture the mood of this desperately sad predicament. This ethereal air is further enhanced by the soulful soundtrack, which summons up powerful emotions. Reaching back in time with nostalgic home videos to capture snapshots of their lives before Hiba’s devotion became all-consuming, there’s a heartbreaking honesty to Q that resonates in most scenes.

q movie 2023

While Q features interviews with family, interlaces home videos and recordings, it has a free-flowing spirit that makes it unconventional in its intimate chronicle of this debilitating situation. As beautifully crafted and near-elemental as it is, Q is sometimes elusive and difficult to follow. Without reading about the underlying premise or perspective, it can be tricky to follow the gist of what’s happening. One can comprehend the emotionally-laden family dynamic but there are times when the documentary seems adrift and a little vague. While there’s little spoon-feeding, which is appreciated, the storytelling does seem a bit unfocussed at times. As intimate and honest as it gets, there’s some stalemate frustration in trying to determine why this story is being told.

This perceived distance is a direct overflow of the central figure’s insulation and hand-wringing tone of Q. While this seems unavoidable in one sense, it unfortunately has a bearing as the documentary gets stuck in a state of arrested development. As finely crafted, nostalgic and haunting as it is, the dour atmosphere and depressing mood make this documentary a bit of a chore.

The bottom line: Wistful

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