April 4-14, 2019

Heaven without People

Synopsis

Josephine, the matriarch of a sprawling Lebanese family, is delighted to gather everyone for Easter lunch for the first time in two years. Given a close, personal touch by a roving handheld camera, Lucien Bourjeily’s debut feature calls to mind some of the great Dogme95 and Dogme-influenced chamber pieces of recent decades–think Rachel Getting Married, The Anniversary Party and especially Thomas Winterberg’s The Celebration, the granddaddy of them all. Bourjeily, who grew up in Beirut before earning a Fulbright scholarship and coming to Los Angeles to study filmmaking at Loyola Marymount University, so cleverly weaves the family tapestry in this multi-faceted drama that, much to its credit, the events unfolding appear so fluid and immediate as to have been carried out in a single-take.

While they all share what is meant to be a joyful meal, secrets and beliefs are gradually revealed that threaten to undermine the sanctity of the holiday’s observance. As a brooding teenaged nephew refuses to emerge from the only bathroom in the home, a separate drama set in motion by Josephine ignites underlying tensions between the family members and inches their get-together ever closer to the brink of all-out chaos. Just off a successful premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival, where it took home a special jury prize, the film offers a captivating fly-on-the-wall glimpse of a family trying to walk the fine line between tradition and modernity in contemporary Lebanon.

–Christopher Holmes

Screenings