Meryam Joobeur

BROTHERHOOD | A short film exploring conflict, authority and prejudice

Brotherhood (2018) by Meryam Joobeur, explores the shifting dynamics between a family of shepherds living rurally on the outskirts of Tunisia. Co-produced by Cinétéléfilms and Midi la Nuit and spanning production between Canada, Tunisia, Qatar and Sweden, Brotherhood challenges views on faith, prejudice and extremism. This Oscar-nominated short film ultimately mirrors Sophocles’s tragedy Antigone by placing the character of the father at the centre of conflict and authority.

Mohammed is deeply disturbed when his estranged eldest son, Malek returns home after several years in Syria to rural Tunisia with a mysterious wife in tow. The wife, wearing a full niqab and pregnant, ignites the father’s suspicions that his son has been working for Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).

In a 2019 interview with Zenith magazine, director Meryam Joobeur explained that she found it compelling that a “higher than average percentage of young men from Sejnane in the northern region of Bizerte (have) gone to Syria” despite most Muslim families in the territory are considered less devout and fundamentalist. In Brotherhood, the viewer gradually becomes aware of the tense relationship between Mohammed and Malek and of a son who is unsettled by his father’s dominance. The authoritarianism we witness in Mohammed is the kind of authority that grazes against the insecurity felt by new generations of men, who are therefore more likely to be targeted by extremist groups such as Daesh who propagate and sell images of masculinity to.

In the opening scene of Brotherhood, Mohammed teaches his middle son, Chaker how to slaughter a sheep – a lesson in masculinity as well as work ethic to a boy who is coming of age. As the blood of the sheep dries on the father’s shirt, his eldest son Malek arrives home from Syria. With what is seen as an emotional reunion for his mother, Salha and sons, Chaker and Rayene, Mohammed is suspicious and attempts to reassert his dominance in the household.

Reem, Malek’s young Syrian wife who’s full niqab symbolises extremism, is taunted by Mohammed who insists she “take it off” as her presence and her refusal to speak or eat unsettles him. The audience later learns that she is a child and a victim of war. Reem and Malek have escaped Syria together – acknowledging that they would not have survived without each other. But it’s too late. Mohammed’s final act of alerting authorities to the actions and whereabouts of his son and his realisation that he’s made a fatal mistake, one based on prejudice, is wholly Sophoclean. The last scene portrays Mohammed frantically searching the beach for his son; a close-up shot of Mohammed calling Malek’s name in the wind, each time his voice grows feebler.

This scene mirrors that of the last act in Antigone – Creon, King of Thebes on the realisation that he’ll lose his son forever, dashes to Antigone’s cave (prison cell) to free her from sentencing her to death for providing her brother with a proper burial. Haemon, Creon’s son (and engaged to Antigone) arrives at the cave first and learns Antigone has committed suicide before her impending execution. In anger and despair, Haemon lunges at his father and dies by his own sword. A message reaches the castle to inform Eurydice, Haemon’s mother, that he has died. In grief, she kills herself. What’s important to note here is that Creon, like Mohammed, believes that his decision is just and it is this conviction of belief that blinds him to his loved ones, leading him to his imminent downfall. In Brotherhood, the main participants in the conflict of tragedy are Malek and Mohammed but symbolically, this is represented as a conflict of authority in the home and is suggestive of Malek’s decision to travel to Syria in the first place.

Shannon Calcott is a book cover designer based in Berlin. She is currently an MA student of Media Studies at Leiden University and is an intern at Leiden Shorts Film Festival 2021.