Written by Reem Saleh, New Media, DFI
Film: Beirut Buenos Aires Beirut
Director: Hernán Belón
Stars: Grace Spinelli
Duration: 72 mns
When she was 15 watching TV and asking about the Muslim call for prayer, Argentinian Graciela discovered her Arab, Lebanese and Muslim roots.
Years later, she decides to return to Lebanon in search of her great grandfather’s family tree, reconnecting with her lost ancestors and a land she ignores but still belongs to.
She gathers letters, pictures, translates them from Arabic to understand more about her grandfather.
All she possesses are these documents, the name of Mohammed Moussa Haithan and his birth town of Kfar Kela in the South of Lebanon.
She tries to look back at emigrants registrations dating back to the 1900’s with no luck, most of the original documents have been used to roll cigarettes. Her only solution is to fly back to Beirut and search on location.
Before her death, Graciela’s aunt reveals that Mohammed left Argentina to move back to Lebanon leaving his family behind. Angry with his departure, his children cut off all communication with him and he never returned. The last they heard is that he got married again and might have more children there.
It’s a trip from Argentina to Lebanon and Graciela’s first visit. All that her grandmother asked her for is to visit Mohammed’s grace and send her regards if she manages to find it.
She seeks help from friends and goes with Lebanese Argentina Antoine, both as a guide and translator, not knowing what to expect in this stranger country.
It’s a crash course in history and politics, something you can’t run away from in Lebanon, especially if you’re visiting the South of Lebanon, still a conflict zone. As a foreigner she needs a special permission to visit Kfar Kela for security reasons. This is a town that’s always on the front line in the Lebanese-Israeli battles.
In this road trip, she’s introduced to her family; no need to go through official documents- this is not the way it works in villages. Just give them the name and the people will guide you. Everybody knows each other in these places, and will help you out of their natural hospitable nature. Graciela learns about their traditions and the reasons behind her grandfather’s return; he wanted to die in his hometown and buried the Islamic way.
She comes to them with pictures and letters and is immediately considered family. She gets the lost pieces lost in Lebanon and she brings them the Argentina ones to complete the circle of Mohammed’s journey.
The trip engages the audience and we all get concerned about the result of this trip. It is both emotional and pleasant forming a bridge of two cultures millions of miles away from each other.
This is not new to the Lebanese, a large number of Lebanese exiled to Argentina, some returned, and others like Graciela have been detached from their roots.