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Hiam Abbass: “You can tell your children anything, as long as you filter the information according to their age”


Highlights: Hiam Abbass is at the heart of the documentary Bye Bye Tiberias directed by her daughter Lina Soualem. The film explores the memory of the women in their family, between ruptures and indestructible bonds. Meeting with the actress, who until now, had never opened up so much, was a revelation. Hiam and Lina return to their family home in Deir Hanna, to retrace their journeys made of obstacles and ruptures, but also of humor, resistance and love.

The actress of Palestinian origin is at the heart of the documentary Bye Bye Tiberias directed by her daughter Lina Soualem, which explores the memory of the women in their family, between ruptures and indestructible bonds.

She won't tell you about the Israel-Hamas war.

In any case, not in the context of a half-hour interview.

Hiam Abbass insists: “If I am asked to address the subject, I must elaborate.

We are not going to summarize forty years of conflict in a few minutes.”

In any case, the 63-year-old Palestinian actress is there to defend above all

Bye Bye Tiberias

, a very beautiful documentary made by her daughter, Lina Soualem, well before the outbreak of the conflict.


Their Algeria

(2020), dedicated to that of her father, the actor Zinedine Soualem, the latter this time turns to her mother's family.

And on the line of women to whom she is heir, originally from Deir Hanna, a small village in the north of Israel.

From the evacuation of Palestinians under English protectorate in 1948, experienced by his great-grandmother, to the decision of Hiam Abbass (seen in Radu Mihaileanu, Amos Gitaï and, in recent years, as a cantankerous mother-in-law in the series


) to leave everything to become an actress in Europe, Lina Soualem retraces, in the company of the latter, journeys made of obstacles and ruptures, but also of humor, resistance and love.

The film, through testimonies, letters, and a return of Hiam and Lina to their family home in Deir Hanna, is also the story of a memory that we go back little by little, of what our lives are full of choices, compromises and guilt, and how our family heritage shapes, unconsciously or not, our identities.

Meeting with the actress, who until now, had never opened up so much.

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Madame Figaro.- What was your reaction when your daughter asked you to participate in this documentary about your family?

Hiam Abbass.-

My first reaction was to say no.

Although there has always been an inner desire within me to tell the stories of the women in my family, I really didn't think it was possible.

It's such a sensitive subject: I didn't know if I wanted to reveal such personal things, it wasn't like me.

But I had also seen Lina's first film.

I understood that his approach was to place the individual in a whole, the staff in a collective.

I trusted that she was seeking to understand what it was in me that connected her to this lineage of women.

And what was my place in this lineage, how I made certain choices.

From there, we found a way to get along, to understand each other.

Your dialogue notably involves reading letters from your mother, or poems that you wrote as a teenager... Why?

When Lina asked me questions, I always started by answering with long sentences about my vision of things, and not about my feelings.

This is not what she was looking for.

After a while, she even said to me: “Mom stop, I'm not a journalist, but the one who investigates the story with you.

So come on, let’s hold hands and really talk, like two human beings, with each other.”

To make things easier for me, she asked me if I didn't have any objects brought back from Palestine that I could talk about.

That's how I found a bowl, then these poetry notebooks and photos.

She understood that these were not simple objects, but memories.

This is where things took a turn, and it opened doors to questions, in a different way.

Lina Soualem and Hiam Abbass in front of family photos in Paris.

Thomas Brémond - Beall Productions

Lina also called on your experience as an actress, by having you interpret certain scenes from your youth.

Yes, because when faced with certain questions that revived memories that I found painful, or not very interesting, I went in all directions.

That's when she began to put me in the spotlight, to ask me to put myself in the place of the young girl I was.

My daughter told me: “Mom stop, I am not a journalist, but the one who questions the story with you”

Did this allow you to gain more distance?

You know, I am working on a text by Jorge Semprun,

Writing or Life,

which relates his experience as a prisoner in a concentration camp.

He talked about how he needed to talk about it, but couldn't.

He said two things, one of which resonates a lot with me.

He says that to be able to testify, to be able to tell the horror, he had to forget.

I find it magnificent.

He then explains that to be able to tell this horror, it was necessary to use artifices and therefore, indeed, fiction.

With it, we have the way to transmit something, without causing rejection.

Also read Parent-child relationship in adulthood: why is it so complicated?

Did you have difficulty, once the documentary started, confiding in your daughter?

It is sometimes difficult to tell certain things to your children.

I don't really share this opinion.

You can tell your children anything.

We just filter the news by age because we don't want to do any harm, because there are things that children are not ready to hear.

Each of us, even as a couple, at work or as a family, has our secret garden.

But in making this film, I never thought of Lena as my daughter, who I was going to indulge in.

Above all, I confided in a director.

Hiam Abbass with Um Ali, his grandmother, and Lina Soualem, on his lap.

Lina Soualem Collection

What do you think the women in your family have in common?


Each had to face a difficulty that they had to overcome to achieve their goals.

My grandmother, Um Ali, lost her husband and had 9 children: she really had to assume her role as mother, fully.

My mother, Neemat, dreamed of becoming a teacher, which the circumstances of the Nakbah

(term designating the forced displacement of 700,000 Palestinians at the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, Editor's note)

at the time, did not allow her. to do.

Besides, for a long time, she spoke like a teacher at home, people told her “Stop, mom, you're not at school!”.

She ended up making her dream come true.

My mother had 10 children and worked.

Today, when I hear those who have two children say that they are overwhelmed, I do not neglect their effort, I respect it.

But when I compare them with my mother, I wonder how she did it.

As for me, I realized my dream of being an actress, despite all the difficulties and political and social obstacles.

On the other hand, I had to leave.

I had to hurt myself and others to achieve this dream.

And what about your daughter, Lina?

I find this strength in his persistence in telling these stories.

Lina is not just a director to “make” films.

She does it to express her hopes, as a Frenchwoman who carries two exiles within herself.

She wants to show the world how these three identities can coexist peacefully within one and the same person.

Through her art, through her production, through her thought, she will manage to draw out what is human in a collective whole which is often united by the difficult and painful memory of reality: despite these horrors, there are positive paths which show that we can overcome them.

My daughter Lina Soualem makes films to express her hopes, as a French woman who carries two exiles within herself

The women in your family are strong, but not harsh.

Yes, and this is reflected in my way of understanding the world.

I have the impression that today, unfortunately, we live in a society that has lost the sense of tenderness.

It's not about hugging everyone, you shouldn't be naive either.

But I'm talking about listening to others, putting yourself in their place.

I try to infuse that into my work, and I'm very happy that Lina did too.

Read alsoSingle mothers, courageous mothers, pillar mothers: the maternal figure, the bedrock of society

How did the women in your family maintain this tenderness despite the trials they suffered?

I don't know.

This is the whole mystery of life: how were these women able to truly transmit not harshness, hatred, distrust of others, but beauty, forgiveness, love?

There was a real joy of living among them.

It's perhaps a way to survive, to exist, to move forward, instead of stagnating in depression.

And in hatred?

Hate is a question that arose very early in my life.

A friend told me an anecdote that happened when I was 15, which I have no memory of.

During a conversation, I told him that I had made a decision: no one would bring me into the circle of hatred.

At the time, in Palestine, there were a lot of political incidents that made people live in fear, and with the impression of being part of a population that was not equal to the other.

I think it gave me strength to think differently: “I don't care if people think I'm not equal.

Me, in my head, I am.

So I'm going to go wherever I want, putting myself on par with the others.

Whether it’s men or Israelis.”

Because I believe that hating would have immediately placed me in an inferior position.

Diana, Buthayna and Hanan, the sisters of Hiam Abbass (right), today at their family home.

Frida Marzouk - Beall Productions

Why was your family reluctant to see you become an actress?

Was it because this profession was too uncertain, or considered unsuitable for a woman?


But above all, it was a career that we didn't think about when we lived in Palestine.

Because nothing gave you the possibility of thinking that it was possible to do it: there was no theater, no acting school.

I had to go to a school in Tel Aviv to do theater and completely change the language: everything was done in Hebrew, not Arabic.

For a woman, all this did not exist.

Actress, what did that mean?

I saw it on television but how to achieve it from a Palestinian village in the north of Galilee?

This is why it was initially easier to convince my parents to study photography.

Have your siblings seen the documentary


Not yet, unfortunately, because we haven't been able to screen it there yet.

The film was screened in Venice, in Toronto and then everything was organized to screen it at a festival in Haifa, in the presence of my family.

Unfortunately, war broke out and everything was canceled.

It is often said that

women are more impacted than men by war


Do you share this observation?

I am not a social analyst, nor a historian to analyze these things.

But I want to talk about mothers, more than women and the women's cause - even if I have always supported, and still support, the latter.

I believe it is inconceivable in life to lose a child.

When you are a mother, when you have spent so much time carrying a baby, raising a child – because today, in our patriarchal societies, there are still many things that rest on women rather than men – I can't imagine it being wiped out by war.

As a mother, I struggle to see children dying in the Israel-Hamas war.

We are not born to suffer, we are not born to be eternal victims of a horrible and harsh past.

How are we going to clean all this up?

Because the responsibility falls on all of us, all without exception.

We can't say "I don't care because I'm French": that can also happen here, we don't know by what means.

We must all take responsibility for overcoming these conflicts between governments.

And to say: “enough”.

Bye bye Tiberias

, by Lina Soualem, in theaters on February 21.

Source: lefigaro

All life articles on 2024-02-20

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