In her latest deeply personal documentary, French-Palestinian filmmaker Lina Soualem turns the camera inward to trace the remarkable journey of four generations of women in her family. Two years after exploring her Algerian father’s side in the acclaimed “Their Algeria,” Soualem now partners with her mother, acclaimed actress Hiam Abbass, to unravel the Palestinian maternal bloodline they share.
Weaving together archival footage, poetic narration and revealing conversations, “Bye Bye Tiberias” captures Soualem seeking to uncover and preserve her family’s complicated story of displacement and separation. It all starts with her great-grandmother Um Ali, who fled war-torn Tiberias in 1948 to build a new life with her eight children. Um Ali’s strength in the face of hardship laid the foundation for future generations, including Soualem’s own loving and determined grandmother, Nemat.
Despite the women’s solidarity, a longing to break free from societal restrictions pushes a young Hiam Abbass to leave her village home in pursuit of an acting career abroad. This creates a rift with her family, only healed years later by the birth of her own daughter, Lina. With warmth and care, Soualem’s film explores the tension between Abbass’s defiant journey of self-discovery and her enduring connection to her mother, grandmother and Palestinian roots.
Layering past and present, “Bye Bye Tiberias” maneuvers skillfully between the personal and universal. At its heart, this is a daughter’s loving attempt to preserve her family’s history before the living links to the past are gone. But channeling her mother and grandmothers’ stories, Soualem also pays tribute to the perseverance of Palestinian women across generations marked by both rupture and continuity.
A Family Uprooted
The story of Soualem’s maternal family is deeply intertwined with the seismic tragedy that befell the Palestinian people in 1948. Known as “Al Nakba”, or The Catastrophe, this period saw over 700,000 Palestinians expelled or fleeing from their homes following the Arab-Israeli war and the establishment of the state of Israel.
Among the displaced was Soualem’s great-grandmother, Um Ali Tabari, forced out from her farm in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. As archive footage immerses us in images of the refugee crisis unfolding, Um Ali persevered to rebuild life with her family in the village of Deir Hanna. But her husband, shattered after losing everything, “lost his mind and died of grief.”
Left widowed with eight children, Um Ali found an inner resolve to push forward. The family oral history, relayed lovingly on screen by Soualem’s mother Hiam reading her daughter’s poetic letters, speaks of Um Ali sheltering her family through sheer grit and resourcefulness – her sewing machine becoming “the source of their livelihood.”
This matriarch paved the way for future generations, a symbol of Palestinian Sumoud (steadfastness). And the stories Soualem unearths reveal Um Ali’s principles thriving through her daughter Nemat and granddaughter Hiam – each leading their families with strength, pride and sacrifice amidst instability. Partitioned by borders and buffeted by historical tides outside their control, their unbreakable spirit remained intact.
Keeping Tradition Alive
The strength and sacrifice modeled by Um Ali lived on through her daughter Nemat, Soualem’s beloved grandmother who was a central matriarch binding the family. Defying disruptions to her schooling, Nemat achieved her dream of becoming a teacher – work she continued even after having ten children.
Home videos capture beloved memories of Nemat in her later years, confined to a wheelchair but still the pulsating heart around which the family revolved during Soualem’s childhood summers. We see her joking warmly with a young Hiam and fussing over a toddler Lina, who giggles under Grandma’s kisses.
Nemat hoped her own daughter would settle down close to home and family. But the headstrong Hiam yearned to break out beyond the village walls to pursue her passion for acting. This tension between Nemat’s adherence to tradition and Hiam’s hunger for independence underscores an inner conflict passing from mother to daughter.
Yet the reverence Hiam retains for the matriarch who raised her resilience shines through. When Nemat passes away in her 90s, a devastated Hiam reels with raw emotion outside the family home. “This house has no meaning without her,” she cries. But Nemat’s lasting gift was the unshakable women’s solidarity she nurtured – bonds keeping four generations of displaced families woven together through upheaval and relocation. By her love and sacrifice, Nemat ensured their heritage endured.
While the women before her made immense sacrifices to shelter their families, Hiam Abbass yearned to pursue her own passions unfettered by expectation. Defying her parents and village norms, Abbass’s trailblazing independence came at a cost – but helped catalyze a luminous acting career spanning French and Hollywood cinema.
Abbass’s reputation now precedes her – whether playing cunning matriarchs in HBO’s Succession or Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. But Soualem’s film reveals the young Hiam stifled by life in Deir Hanna, longing to break out beyond its walls. Aged 19, she reflected in her journal about women’s confinement within stone houses apt “to be invaded or raided.”
The teenaged Abbass pulsed with creative hunger – filling notebooks with poetry, falling in love often, snapping photos around her village. Most daring was her secret marriage to an English actor in her early 20s – slyly using an ID photo with a veil to hide her age at the Palestinian National Theater. Though the union collapsed within months, it typified her defiance of patriarchal control.
With steely resolve, Abbass secured her family’s reluctant blessing – using Lina’s birth years later to reconnect and heal the wound. But her departure created an enduring fissure from her mother Nemat, who disapproved of acting and chafed at her daughter prioritizing career over family. Through Soualem’s coaxing on camera, tender regrets emerge into the light.
Ultimately Abbass followed her convictions, achieving success abroad while retaining deep-rooted links to her motherland. Just like the displaced women before her, she found liberation through courage – departing home so later generations could live unfettered.
“How does a woman find her place when caught between worlds?′′ As a girl, Soualem herself wandered between languages and cultures. But in her mother’s defiance, she discovers a bridge between past and future – the security to wander freely.
Rupture and Reunion
Throughout Soualem’s family story, a recurring motif is separation – with links between loved ones strained by physical and emotional divides. Yet even when connections fray to the breaking point, the film traces endurance of affection binding kin across boundaries.
The fractures begin with the 1948 exodus cleaving Um Ali from her home by the shimmering Sea of Galilee. Later, a border snarls shut, blockade-style, sundering Hiam Abbass’s aunt Hosnieh from the family for 30 years. Archival images of the refugee crisis chillingly depict people ripped from homeland, destiny arbitrarily decided by bullets and barbed wire.
Quieter ruptures also resonate. Craving independence, a young Hiam “didn’t think twice” before leaving her village – excited to pursue acting abroad but sparking lasting resentment from her mother. Years on, Nemat still nursed the pain of her daughter prioritizing career over family.
Yet the relationships endure – time and again – through separation’s storm. Political divisions cannot contains the hearts tugging in tandem across the barbed midline. When Hiam’s exiled aunt finally returns, their reunion scenes thrum with raw emotion. “We stuck to each other,” Hiam says, “as if magnetized.”
Through the decades, other divisions slowly mend too. With baby Lina binding their hearts, Hiam and her mother rediscover their rhythm – Nemat again welcoming her daughter home each summer. And this time, her own grandchild soaks up the ancestral heritage, eager to share their stories with the world.
However severed, the cords of family ultimately hold fast. By mining the past, Soualem reveals the love building resilience across generations of Palestinian women – no barrier great enough to keep kindred souls apart.
Preserving Living History
At its heart, “Bye Bye Tiberias” represents Soualem’s attempt to salvage her family’s fading living history – piecing together a mosaic of their past before the last generation with direct memory passes away.
We see her actively gathering artifacts – old cassette tapes, photo albums, journal scribblings – reconstructing the narrative like an archaeological dig. She immerses her mother in memory triggers to unlock poignant recollections. At Lake Tiberias, a reticent Hiam Abbass suddenly convulses in tears outside her childhood sanctuary, the wounds of separation reopened.
Such reluctant excavation of trauma contrasts the enthusiasm Abbass shows for reenactments – plunging into theatrical restagings of her early travails breaking free. Be it a charged confrontation with her father or reading impassioned teenage poems for the first time in decades, the scenes crackle with celebratory catharsis. “To create, you have to be free!” the veteran actress triumphantly tells a cheering theater class after a performance.
Throughout we witness Soualem actively archiving: pasting family photos into patchwork tapestries, recording her mother’s childhood recollections before they fade forever. “It was important for me to make her remember,” she narrates, “so that I could remember.” This sense of urgent preservation intensifies when her beloved grandmother Nemat passes away midway through filming, the family matriarch’s well of living stories suddenly silenced.
Like a conservator restoring antique tapestries, Soualem repairs the torn panels of history for future generations. The film itself becomes a quilt – weaving interviews, found footage, dramatizations and poetic narration into a unified mosaic capturing her ancestors’ journey. Pieced together with devotion, this cinematic scrapbook ensures the stories enduring into posterity – the women’s voices resurrected anytime we press play.
Honoring the Matriarchs
At its core, “Bye Bye Tiberias” represents Soualem’s loving attempt to honor the women who came before – her camera capturing their strength and solidarity passing the torch through four remarkable generations.
We witness their struggles under social constraints – the teenaged Hiam chafing against village limits on her freedom, burning to create outside stone walls “apt to be invaded.” Even her traveling requires acquiescing to patriarchal gatekeeping, securing her father’s blessing to pursue acting.
Yet emerge they do – following their conviction despite obstacles. For displaced oldest daughter Um Ali, that means sheltering eight children through grit alone after tragedy robs her of support. We see her daughter Nemat sacrifice her own dreams to nurture a brood of ten kids – while still blazing a trail as the village’s only female teacher.
Their resilience lays the groundwork for Abbass, who draws power from their example. “I’m the daughter and granddaughter of very strong women,” she declares. “We had a responsibility to be as strong.” And for their granddaughter Lina, capturing their journey on film continues that chain of courage handed down four generations – women celebrating women along the march of progress.
The most poignant moments come through solidarity, like Hiam embracing her long-exiled aunt across the border that separated them for decades. When Nemat passes, her daughters encircle her hospital bed, linked hands and gentle laments singing her farewell song.
“They supported each other, no matter what happened in their lives,” Soualem narrates in tribute. Through fragments and artifacts, she pieces their legacy – a quilt honoring those who carved the path, who held the family together through history’s harvest and famine. By lifting the stories from fading pages into cinema’s immortal reach, their lives shine on brightly to touch and inspire future daughters.
From Generation to Generation
At its close, Soualem’s “Bye, Bye Tiberias” reveals itself as a story traversing both change and continuity. As wars and time’s tides keep battering each generation through the decades, the women’s solidarity remains steadfast, binding the family against dispersing winds.
We witness how the passion for teaching skips from Um Ali’s daughter Nemat to granddaughter Lina – both gathering children around them, nurturing fresh saplings to blossom in their care. The bonds of affection endure too: Hiam weeping over losing her mother just as Lina once wept saying bye-bye to Lake Tiberias, their ancestral playground.
Trauma echoes down the years as well – displacement sowing seeds of sadness passed from grandmother to mother to daughter. “Don’t open gates to past sorrow,” the matriarchs oft-repeat, a coping mantra for lingering aches.
Yet where función fractures, creation crystallizes – Hiam’s guiding light being acting and poetry, Lina’s the camerawork preserving her mother’s history. Art and film germinate where words once failed, flowering freely as creative wings spread wide.
Through mining her family’s century-spanning narrative, Soualem thus sculpts an intimate epic ready to resonate universally. Their small human story, grounded in love’s fragile continuity amidst forces of division, carries echoes touching every displaced people across our war-marked world. For in the end, our histories remain bound up in each other – yearning for home while transforming through time.
Bye Bye Tiberias
Poetic and poignant, Lina Soualem's "Bye Bye Tiberias" represents a lovingly crafted monument to the women who built the foundation - not just of her family, but her very identity as a Palestinian-French filmmaker exploring her place between cultures. Told with intimacy and grace, her story of mothers and daughters transcends the personal to resonate universally. As Soualem poetically declares, "A woman never really leaves home, she carries it forever inside her." By honoring the incredible matriarchs in her bloodline, she ensures their legacy carries forward to inspire future generations.
- Beautifully crafted personal narrative
- Powerful storytelling through reenactments and poetic narration
- Strong bond between Hiam Abbass and director comes through
- Evocative exploration of Palestinian heritage and women's experiences
- Universal themes of family, change vs tradition, love and loss
- Could have benefited from more political/historical context
- We learn little about Lina's own experiences and perspective
- Abbass occasionally reluctant to participate in filming process
- Archival footage quality is mixed