Brotherhood: The Short of 2019
Director Meryam Joober shortlists Tunisia’s melancholic landscape and the talent of the three red-headed Mechergui brothers (non-actors in their debut), to convey her poem of the dynamic complexities that control parents and their children. It is with this poetry of framework and pacing that the story of eldest son Malek returning home from fighting in Syria with a mysterious wife achieves its underlying unease and beguiling intensity.
There are ample opportunities to ponder the actors' closeups in the twenty-five minutes that we are granted. The haunting tension and environment reel the plot towards its gut-wrenching dénouement. Joober paints the film with expressions and sentiments. Colour receives its own attention; a sea of contrast that beholds mystique and bleak aura. The brothers’ distinguishable freckles and red hair paint a portrait of artlessness and youth. They often fall in and out of focus by hand of the film’s documentary-style; looking desperately out of place. The parents’ furrowed gaze is weathered with angst and dread. An idea of generational disconnect is bookended by the clear difference of dialogue between said generations. As the eldest brother Malek expresses his repentance over his involvement with terrorism, he asserts to his younger brother, “promise me you’ll never go there”. The proclamation conjures a simple “ok”. The difference in ideals invokes a sort of stillness. A type of white noise that can’t be shaken.
Brotherhood is glued together by Joober’s understanding of atmosphere and the timeless metaphor of the return of a black sheep. She has successfully framed both her subjects: Tunisia and the family.
There is enough thematic work here for a feature-length expansion. It would be interesting to see what the brothers could bring to the table. To add to this, films with non-actors have become a popular nugget recently.
Brotherhood was Oscar-shortlisted along my other favourites Miller & Son and Sometimes, I Think About Dying. They are also available for online viewing. It has since been nominated.*
Academy voters and viewers alike will find it difficult to ignore the political and religious implications but may be turned away by its sheer relentlessness. Hopefully, if they’re looking in the right direction Brotherhood will get its due.
*Updated 21 January 2020