What is the Libano-Québécois? Representing the Migrant Subject in Québec National Cinema

Amy J. Ransom

Qué­bec natio­nal cine­ma, as cri­tics note, conti­nues to pro­ject a homo­ge­neous image of Qué­bé­cois iden­ti­ty, the vast majo­ri­ty of fil­mic pro­ta­go­nists being white and fran­co­phone1. Never­the­less, since the year 2000, a gro­wing num­ber of films have por­trayed the province’s migrant condi­tion, pre­sen­ting Québec’s “cultu­ral com­mu­ni­ties” and their encoun­ters with the Fran­co- Qué­bé­cois majo­ri­ty2. The Leba­nese com­mu­ni­ty holds a pri­vi­le­ged posi­tion in these repre­sen­ta­tions, as migrant sub­jects with ties to Leba­non (and neigh­bou­ring Syria) are fea­tu­red in both major pro­duc­tions such as Denis Villeneuve’s Incen­dies (2010) and modest, inde­pendent ones like Maryanne Zéhil’s De ma fenêtre sans mai­son (2006). This article exa­mines the way these repre­sen­ta­tions illus­trate the marks left by regio­nal vio­lence on the Leba­nese com­mu­ni­ty, the stra­te­gies (or lack the­reof) used by pro­ta­go­nists to adapt to the host pro­vince, and how Fran­co-Qué­bé­cois pro­ta­go­nists contri­bute to (or hin­der) their inte­gra­tion into the natio­nal body. As Third Space inter­ven­tions of resis­tance to domi­nant, homo­ge­ni­zing, colo­ni­zing ideo­lo­gies and aes­the­tics, the cor­pus exa­mi­ned here offers mains­tream Qué­bec a vision of its pur­por­ted Others from the posi­tion of Self.

This ana­ly­sis focuses on three aspects of these repre­sen­ta­tions: 1) how these films by pri­ma­ri­ly migrant direc­tors ope­rate within Homi K. Bhabha’s Third Space of post­co­lo­nial cultu­ral pro­duc­tions; 2) how their pro­ta­go­nists reflect the iden­ti­ta­ry entre-deux theo­ri­zed by Régine Robin, an “in-bet­ween­ness” that has long preoc­cu­pied post­co­lo­nial stu­dies; and 3) their enga­ge­ment with the pro­blem of memo­ry, espe­cial­ly in rela­tion to a Leba­nese past, one often rele­ga­ted to a form of “arti­fi­cial­ly selec­ted obli­vion” or “dis­me­mo­ry”3. Caught bet­ween Leba­non and Syria’s trou­bled past and the terre d’accueil of the present and future, these films’ migrant pro­ta­go­nists expe­rience sub­jec­tive and cultu­ral alie­na­tion, with gen­der and sexua­li­ty playing a signi­fi­cant role in cine­ma­to­gra­phic depic­tions of their varying degrees of adap­ta­tion and inadap­ta­tion. The male sub­jects of Waj­di Mouawad’s Lit­to­ral (2004), Ivan Grbovic’s Romeo Onze (2011), Maryanne Zéhil’s La val­lée des larmes (2012) and Domi­nique Chi­la and Samer Najari’s Arwad (2013) all expe­rience the pas­sage to Qué­bec or back home to Leba­non (or Syria) as a des­ta­bi­li­zing jour­ney that ren­ders them Other, while films fea­tu­ring female migrants, such as Zéhil’s De ma fenêtre sans mai­son and L’autre côté de novembre (2016), reveal that their appa­rent­ly suc­cess­ful inte­gra­tion in Qué­bec socie­ty comes, none­the­less, with a price.

Third Spaces, In-Bet­weens, and Dis­me­mo­ry:
His­to­ri­cal and Theo­re­ti­cal Under­pin­nings
In addi­tion to explo­ring migrant iden­ti­ties, the cor­pus exa­mi­ned here ins­tructs Qué­bé­cois vie­wers about the condi­tions that pro­ta­go­nists (or their parents) fled and/or address a willed for­get­ting of a pain­ful past. To varying degrees, these films point to the Leba­nese Civil War (1975–1990) and Syrian Occu­pa­tion of Leba­non (1990–2005) as the motives for migra­tion. Both are gene­ral­ly vie­wed in the West as sec­ta­rian conflicts bet­ween Druze Mus­lims and Maro­nite Chris­tians, but more com­plex fac­tors, inclu­ding reli­gion, class, poli­ti­cal and social ideo­lo­gies, broa­der regio­nal conflict and long-stan­ding colo­nial inter­ests have also contri­bu­ted to these violent events, which resul­ted in the exo­dus of an esti­ma­ted 800,000 people from Leba­non by 19904. Although not expli­cit­ly invo­ked, France’s colo­nial invol­ve­ment in the region par­tial­ly explains the des­ti­na­tion of choice of these migrants: French-spea­king Qué­bec. By 2001, Canada’s popu­la­tion inclu­ded 144,000 people “of Leba­nese ori­gin,” half of them forei­gn born; of these, 49,000 resi­ded in Qué­bec5. High-pro­file cultu­ral figures, inclu­ding play­wrights Abla Farhoud and Waj­di Moua­wad, have brought the Liba­no-Qué­bé­cois to Québec’s col­lec­tive atten­tion, as has Farhoud’s son, Mathieu Farhoud-Dionne, as Cha­fiik of Loco Locass.

Hyphe­na­ted labels for migrant iden­ti­ties, such as Liba­no-Qué­bé­cois or the more gene­ral néo-Qué­bé­cois, neces­sa­ri­ly imply dua­li­ty, hybri­di­ty or métis­sage6. Post­co­lo­nial theo­rists pro­ble­ma­tize this expe­rience of self as an entre- deux, a being “in-bet­ween” two worlds, the coun­try of ori­gin and the host nation7. Cine­ma­to­gra­phic repre­sen­ta­tions of migrant sub­jects of Leba­nese (or Syrian) ori­gin living in contem­po­ra­ry Qué­bec reflect this model. Writ­ten and direc­ted by (lar­ge­ly) migrant film­ma­kers, this cor­pus also reveals aspects of Homi K. Bhabha’s notion of “Third Space,” which des­cribes cultu­ral pro­duc­tions in the post­co­lo­nial context:

The inter­ven­tion of the Third Space of enun­cia­tion, which makes the struc­ture of mea­ning and refe­rence an ambi­va­lent pro­cess, des­troys this mir­ror of repre­sen­ta­tion in which know­ledge is cus­to­ma­ri­ly revea­led as an inte­gra­ted, open, expan­ding code. Such an inter­ven­tion quite pro­per­ly chal­lenges our sense of the his­to­ri­cal iden­ti­ty of culture as a homo­ge­ni­zing, uni­fying force, authen­ti­ca­ted by the ori­gi­na­ry Past, kept alive by the natio­nal tra­di­tion of the People.8

Vie­wed within the lar­ger fra­me­work of Qué­bec natio­nal cine­ma, but also read as Third Space inter­ven­tions mar­ked by ambi­va­lence, these films chal­lenge the long-domi­nant natio­nal nar­ra­tive of a homo­ge­neous French-Cana­dian his­to­ry and iden­ti­ty. It is France, and not Cana­da, which his­to­ri­cal­ly wiel­ded a colo­nial pre­sence in Leba­non; yet, as a terre d’accueil, Québec’s posi­tion shifts from that of a sha­red heri­tage of French colo­ni­za­tion with Leba­non to one of pseu­do-colo­nial power for Leba­nese immi­grants.9 In its pre­sen­ta­tion of the inter­ac­tion bet­ween present-day Qué­bec and a his­to­ri­cal image of Leba­non (and Syria), this cor­pus explores not only the “in-bet­ween” sta­tus of the migrant sub­ject, but also pro­jects an image of Qué­bec as a plu­ra­lis­tic socie­ty that extends a more or less wel­co­ming hand to new arri­vals.10

The films stu­died here ulti­ma­te­ly the­ma­tize the pro­blem of memo­ry in their direct and indi­rect enga­ge­ment with the Leba­nese Civil War and sub- sequent Syrian Occu­pa­tion. His­to­rians and cultu­ral cri­tics wri­ting about this dif­fi­cult per­iod, inclu­ding its repre­sen­ta­tion in the arts and lite­ra­ture, repea­ted­ly invoke the phe­no­me­non of memo­ry loss and reco­ve­ry. Nor­man Saa­di Nikro des­cribes Lebanon’s offi­cial post-war poli­cy as one of “dis­me­mo­ry,” while Makram Rabah refers to a “state-spon­so­red amne­sia.”11 In rela­tion to Lebanon’s his­to­ry of war, Sune Haug­bolle ana­lyzes “how the frag­men­ted ele­ments of memo­ries are sha­ped over time, how they influence the way a socie­ty views its past and how a poli­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ty nego­tiates what hap­pe­ned and what it meant.”12 This trou­bled rela­tion­ship to indi­vi­dual and col­lec­tive memo­ry fur­ther exa­cer­bates the iden­ti­ty crises of these films’ migrant protagonists.

Young Men Caught In-Bet­ween: Lit­to­ral and Roméo Onze
Denis Villeneuve’s Aca­de­my Award-nomi­na­ted Incen­dies, based on Waj­di Mouawad’s 2003 play, brought the Leba­non-Qué­bec connec­tion into the spot­light. In contrast with the signi­fi­cant body of cri­ti­cal and scho­lar­ly lite­ra­ture gene­ra­ted by its inter­na­tio­nal release, very lit­tle has been publi­shed about inde­pendent films by migrant film­ma­kers dea­ling with the Leba­nese Civil War and the sub­sequent exo­dus to fran­co­phone Qué­bec.13 Québec’s ear­liest film explo­ra­tion of the war’s impact on Leba­nese sub­jects caught bet­ween two worlds was also writ­ten and direc­ted by Moua­wad, whose parents left Leba­non in 1974 just prior to the out­break of Civil War, even­tual­ly set­tling in Mont­réal while he was still a child.14 With their author des­cri­bed as a “Qué­bé­cois d’origine liba­naise,” Mouawad’s works nego­tiate migrant iden­ti­ty in Qué­bec.15 Adap­ted from his epo­ny­mous 1997 play to film in 2004, Lit­to­ral depicts the alie­na­ted sub­jec­ti­vi­ty of its pro­ta­go­nist, Wahab Choua­wri (Steve Laplante), who grew up in Qué­bec and has inte­gra­ted with appa­rent suc­cess, until his father’s death takes him on a jour­ney to Syrian-occu­pied Lebanon.

Mouawad’s deci­sion to cast a Fran­co-Qué­bé­cois actor in the lead role unders­cores Wahab’s assi­mi­la­tion as Qué­bé­cois and erases boun­da­ries bet­ween “Self” and “Other.” Cas­ting fami­liar faces in migrant roles encou­rages iden­ti­fi­ca­tion for the Qué­bé­cois audience, who might other­wise view the cha­rac­ter as “Other.”16 But Wahab also shows other signs of his assi­mi­la­tion through his beha­viour. Rai­sed in Mont­réal by Leba­nese aunts and uncles, and with the excep­tion of his “forei­gn” name, Wahab’s speech and appea­rance do not dis­tin­guish him from other Qué­bé­cois of his gene­ra­tion. He sleeps naked, is sexual­ly pro­mis­cuous, and fails to res­pect his elders. Wahab’s phy­si­cal link to Qué­bec as his home­land, rather than Leba­non, also appears in his ini­tial desire to bury his father next to his mother, “[a]u cime­tière à l’est de Mont­réal.” These phy­si­cal and ideo­lo­gi­cal dif­fe­rences appear as the fami­ly meets to iden­ti­fy his father’s body; his elders all talk at once, drow­ning Wahab in a wave of dis­course, but he towers head and shoul­ders over these petite Mediterraneans.

Wahab appears so com­ple­te­ly at home in Qué­bec that Leba­non repre­sents a forei­gn coun­try to him. His alie­na­tion from his Leba­nese ori­gins occurs on mul­tiple levels. Alrea­dy a par­tial orphan—he never knew his mother who, he was told, died in a car acci­dent—, his father’s death com­ple­te­ly severs an alrea­dy tenuous tie. His igno­rance derives from the fact that his elders—participating pre­ci­se­ly in the Leba­nese pro­blem of dismemory—have hid­den essen­tial truths from him. His father, Tho­mas (Gilles Renaud), bla­med by his wife’s fami­ly for her death, lied to Wahab about his own whe­rea­bouts, pre­ten­ding to live in exo­tic Bra­zil but real­ly wor­king as a hou­se­pain­ter in Québec’s sub­urbs. Wahab’s aunts and uncle also concea­led the truth about his mother’s death and taught him nothing about Leba­non itself. The dis­co­ve­ry of cas­sette recor­dings taped by his late father, recoun­ting his parents’ love sto­ry and its bru­tal end, as his mother died giving birth to him, ins­pire his jour­ney to bury his father in the latter’s native vil­lage of Kfar Rayat.

Wahab’s recep­tion in Leba­non unders­cores his alie­na­tion. It reveals his igno­rance of the lan­guage, geo­gra­phy, and his­to­ry of his home­land, from which he is com­ple­te­ly estran­ged. He arrives una­ware of the rea­li­ties of Syrian-occu­pied Leba­non; unable to speak Ara­bic and unfa­mi­liar with the land’s geo­gra­phy, he requires a guide, as would any Wes­ter­ner. His first adju­vant, ambu­lance dri­ver Mas­si (Miro Lacasse), fills the role of “native infor­mant,” gui­ding him through his bom­bed apart­ment and into the moun­tains.17 Their conver­sa­tion demons­trates Wahab’s alie­na­tion from his ances­tors’ culture: “Le Liban pour toi, c’est le tabou­leh, le houm­mos, le ciel bleu, la mer. […] Tu sais rien sur le Liban, rien sur le Cana­da.” En route to Kfar Rayat, Wahab is confu­sed by a Syrian road­block, asking: “On n’est pas encore au Liban? […] Alors pour­quoi il y a des Syriens?” His guide quips: “Tu lis pas vrai­ment les jour­naux, toi,” unders­co­ring Wahab’s igno­rance of Middle East poli­tics and his belon­ging to an apo­li­ti­cal gene­ra­tion of Qué­bé­cois. Wahab arrives in Leba­non to bury his father but is com­ple­te­ly out of place.

Wahab has as much dif­fi­cul­ty explai­ning his iden­ti­ty to the Leba­nese people that he meets as they have unders­tan­ding him. Check­points along the jour­ney signal Wahab’s in-bet­ween­ness, begin­ning with his arri­val in Bei­rut, when sol­diers request his pas­sport and ask: “Si tu es Liba­nais, pour­quoi pas pas­se­port liba­nais ?” In ano­ther encoun­ter, a Syrian sol­dier asks: “Vous êtes fran­çais ?” Wahab ans­wers: “Oui. Non, Qué­bé­cois, mais j’suis aus­si Liba­nais. Mes parents aus­si, ils sont Liba­nais, mais—c’est com­pli­qué.” In Kfar Rayat, even with an inter­pre­ter, Wahab’s request is still misun­ders­tood. Lear­ning he is from Cana­da, vil­la­gers deny him access to their ceme­te­ry: “Étran­gers ! Non !” When Wahab explains that his father was not a forei­gner, a second adju­vant, Layal (Isa­belle Leblanc), lets him in on the opi­nion of the com­mu­ni­ty toward his father: “Ton père est un lâche. Il a fui le pays avec son argent.” The people of Kfar Rayat see Thomas’s depar­ture as a betrayal; they thus sug­gest burying him in Cana­da or Syria where there is room for the dead.

When Mas­si won­ders: “Le Cana­da, c’est grand. Il n’y avait pas de place au Cana­da pour enter­rer ton père ?,” Wahab insists: “Je veux pas l’enterrer n’importe où. […] [L]e vil­lage natal de mon père, c’est pas n’importe où.” To which Mas­si replies: “C’est n’importe où ici. Le Liban, c’est le plus n’im- porte où dans le monde.” Mouawad’s dia­logue signals the inven­ted nature of the nation, both as a poli­ti­cal construct of shif­ting bor­ders and as Bene­dict Anderson’s “ima­gi­ned com­mu­ni­ty.”18 But it also invokes the war’s era­sure through an active for­get­ting that scho­lars iden­ti­fy not only among those who have left it, but also among those who remain in it.19 As a second-gene­ra­tion immi­grant, Wahab’s igno­rance of Leba­non is not actual­ly his fault: it derives from the code of silence sur­roun­ding his homeland’s violent past, figu­red by his mother’s death, which tears the fami­ly apart. The nega­tive impact of elders’ repres­sion of the truth thus hurts not just those who leave, but also those who remain behind, as Layal explains: “Nos parents ne nous ont rien dit. Ils ne nous racontent rien. Je leur demande pour­quoi il y a eu la guerre. Ils répondent: oublie. N’y pense pas. À quoi bon? Il n’y a pas eu de guerre. Je leur demande, mais qui tirait sur qui? Ils disent: Per­sonne ne tirait sur per- sonne. C’est fini. Tu as rêvé la guerre, Layal. Tu as rêvé.” Lit­to­ral explores the real-life past and present of the Leba­nese home­land through the defor­med lens of a lon­ged-for fan­ta­sy, a memo­ry lost and final­ly recovered.

Wahab’s iden­ti­ty quest begins as his father’s recor­ded memo­ries magi­cal­ly trans­port him to the Leba­nese sea­shore. In the film’s conclu­sion, howe­ver, Moua­wad morphs the conven­tion of the fla­sh­back into a fan­ta­sy sequence, in which an adult Wahab reu­nites with his youn­ger parents on the beach. His vision of his parents’ (pre-war, pre-migra­tion) hap­pi­ness ins­pi­red his own lon­ging for “home,” and howe­ver dif­fi­cult the ordeal may be, Wahab ful­fills both his father’s dream and his own through a ritual burial at sea. Throu­ghout his pica­resque jour­ney, Wahab learns about who he is, embra­cing Leba­non through genuine friend­ship with Mas­si and per­haps love with Layal. Lear­ning the truth about his ori­gins also brings him peace. By lis­te­ning to his father’s (albeit post­hu­mous) voice, tra­ve­ling to his home­land, lear­ning its geo­gra­phy, and mee­ting its people, Wahab recon­ciles with the Leba­nese part of him­self. His jour­ney of dis­co­ve­ry, which includes reco­ve­ring the dis­re­mem­be­red past, brings him pain, but also enhances his huma­ni­ty; no lon­ger a sel­fish, spoi­led play­boy, Wahab grows into man­hood. He suc­cess­ful­ly navi­gates the entre-deux, emer­ging whole by embra­cing his iden­ti­ty as a “Liba­nais du quar­tier Vil­le­ray.” As a Liba­no-Qué­bé­cois, he becomes “both/and” rather than “either/or.” The film’s title, Lit­to­ral, final­ly becomes clear; a lite­ral refe­rence to the sho­re­line, it also figures a bor­der­land or limi­nal space where the migrant sub­ject nego­tiates bet­ween two ele­ments, earth and sea, but also bet­ween two cultures, the ances­tral land and the terre d’accueil across the sea. Mouawad’s film pre­ci­se­ly navi­gates the Third Space bet­ween the domi­nant ideo­lo­gy of the colo­nial metro­pole (France) or host pro­vince (Qué­bec) and that of the home­land (Leba­non), revea­ling the ideo­lo­gi­cal flaws in both while fin­ding a home for the migrant self in the space in between.

In contrast with Lit­to­ral, the pro­ta­go­nist of Roméo Onze, Rami (Ali Ammar), under­takes no epic jour­ney in search of his ori­gins, but his iden­ti­ty never­the­less appears conflic­ted. Like Wahab, Rami, a “jeune Mont­réa­lais d’origine liba­naise,” has appa­rent­ly inte­gra­ted into Qué­bec socie­ty.20 His innate dis­sa­tis­fac­tion derives more from an indi­vi­dual sense of dif­fe­rence, resul­ting in the crea­tion of an alter­nate self, a “double per­son­na­li­té.”21 His online alter ego “Roméo 11” signals both what he desires to be—a hand­some noble­man and ico­nic lover from a clas­sic work of English literature—and the frac­tu­red nature of his dou­bled ego—in the mir­ro­red single digits of the num­ber ele­ven. Grbovic’s 2015 film par­ti­ci­pates in the Qué­bé­cois tra­di­tion of ciné­ma direct and its recent “renou­veau” with its docu­men­ta­ry-like aes­the­tic, sparse dia­logue, and nume­rous long takes depic­ting dai­ly-life acti­vi­ties.22 Beyond sequences depic­ting Rami’s fami­ly, Maro­nite Chris­tian cultu­ral prac­tices and his job in his father’s res­tau­rant, the film shows that the young man spe­ci­fi­cal­ly seeks out acti­vi­ties typi­cal of a Qué­bé­cois: riding the metro, wan­de­ring through down­town Mont­réal, strol­ling through shop­ping centres and chat­ting online.

Rami’s inter­na­li­za­tion of New World values includes expec­ta­tions of lib- erty and pur­suit of hap­pi­ness: he longs for the abi­li­ty to choose his own career path and find love out­side fami­ly stric­tures. As André Roy points out, his iden­ti­ty cri­sis involves the rejec­tion of his father Ziad’s (Joseph Bou Nazar) Old World values: “Rami est […] tiraillé entre deux mondes, celui du poids des tra­di­tions et celui d’un ave­nir ima­gi­né, car vir­tuel.”23 A suc­cess­ful res­tau­ra­teur, Ziad brings from Leba­non the patriar­chal pre­ro­ga­tive of orga­ni­zing his children’s des­ti­nies without consul­ta­tion, enrol­ling his son in busi­ness school. Rami, rai­sed in Qué­bec, claims the right to decide his own future, but his inde­ci­sion about a choice of pro­fes­sion leaves him at loose ends. His sis­ters’ obvious social and pro­fes­sio­nal suc­cesses exa­cer­bate his sense of fai­lure, alrea­dy trig­ge­red by a lack of self-esteem stem­ming from his obvious phy­si­cal dif­fe­rence.24 Only par­tial­ly deri­ved from his sta­tus as a hyphe­na­ted, migrant sub­ject, Rami’s inabi­li­ty to flou­rish results rather from a conge­ni­tal disa­bi­li­ty that causes him to have a hal­ting gait.25

Rami’s iso­la­tion fre­quent­ly appears self-impo­sed as he rejects his family’s over­tures. His only joy occurs while chat­ting online as “Roméo11” Ali’s iso­la­tion in the crowd appears as he wan­ders around Mon­treal, skip­ping his busi­ness classes.

with “Malaury26,” a pret­ty Leba­nese girl accor­ding to her pro­file pho­to. Unfor­tu­na­te­ly, Rami learns that she is an inven­tion, a prank devi­sed by for- mer school­mates. This harsh reve­la­tion, cou­pled with his father’s wrath on dis­co­ve­ring that he has been skip­ping busi­ness class, trig­gers some­thing in Rami. His bud­ding self-advo­ca­cy, when he, at last, open­ly defies his father, sug­gests a ten­ta­ti­ve­ly hope­ful ending. He also takes an impor­tant step toward inte­gra­ting back into the fami­ly, recon­ci­ling with his father at his elder sis- ter’s “big fat” Leba­nese wed­ding. Although he responds awk­ward­ly to his youn­ger sister’s attempt to intro­duce him to a single girl, the film concludes as Rami walks toward the dance floor to join the crowd, a first step toward accep­tance of the Leba­nese half of his identity.

André Roy links Rami’s migrant iden­ti­ty to his inabi­li­ty to connect: “Rami est d’origine liba­naise, donc il est cet Autre, l’étranger, la figure même de l’altérité pour le Qué­bé­cois.”26 I argue, rather, that Roméo Onze marks an impor­tant miles­tone for Qué­bec migrant film in its move­ment away from this cli­ché. Although not of Leba­nese ori­gin, Grbo­vic sub­verts recei­ved ideas about néo-Qué­bé­cois and natu­ra­lizes their pre­sence on the ter­ri­to­ry, offe­ring a Third Space cultu­ral inter­ven­tion with his film. Cer­tain­ly, the Leba­nese fami­ly depic­ted in his film has suc­cess­ful­ly inte­gra­ted by adop­ting Québec’s pri­ma­ry cultu­ral value, the French lan­guage. Howe­ver, Grbo­vic also sub­verts this aspect of natio­nal culture by fil­ming pre­do­mi­nant­ly in Leba­nese Ara­bic, the lan­guage spo­ken at home by eve­ry mem­ber of the fami­ly except the youn­ger daugh­ter, who speaks unac­cen­ted, idio­ma­tic Qué­bé­cois French. Fur­ther­more, by fore­groun­ding the family’s Chris­tian prac­tices, Roméo Onze sub­verts the recei­ved image of “Arabs” as Mus­lim. As French-spea­king North Ame­ri­cans and as “Chris­tian Arabs,” Leba­nese Maro­nites share a para­dox- ical iden­ti­ty sta­tus with Qué­bé­cois.27 Final­ly, in contrast to Lit­to­ral, Roméo Onze is cast almost com­ple­te­ly with Leba­nese actors. Of the ele­ven cha­rac­ters signi­fi­cant enough to be named (as oppo­sed to those lis­ted by func­tion, like “ser­veur”) in its clo­sing cre­dits, only two are Franco-Québécois.

Roméo Onze, then, is as much about nor­ma­li­zing the Maro­nite com­mu­ni­ty in Mont­réal as a whole as it is about a single individual’s adap­ta­tion to an enri­ched iden­ti­ty that is both “Liba­no-” and “Qué­bé­cois.” Its conclu­ding wed­ding cele­bra­tion, fea­tu­ring cultu­ral­ly spe­ci­fic prac­tices such as rai­sing the bride and groom above everyone’s heads, popu­lar and tra­di­tio­nal Leba­nese music, dan­cing and food unders­cores the com­mu­nal scope of its mes­sage. Side­li­ning direct dis­course about migrant iden­ti­ty or Qué­bé­cois de souche pre­ju­dices, Roméo Onze natu­ra­lizes cultu­ral dif­fe­rence as an inte­gral part of Mont­réal rea­li­ty. Addi­tio­nal­ly, Rami’s unhap­pi­ness as an indi­vi­dual links him to the trope of the loser qué­bé­cois wide­ly found in Qué­bec natio­nal cine­ma.28 In contrast to the Fran­co-Qué­bé­cois Louis in Simon Lavoie and Mathieu Denis’s Lau­ren­tie (2011), whose self-iso­la­tion and alie­na­tion from com­mu­ni­ty becomes irre­pa­rable, Rami’s even­tual move to join the com­mu­ni­ty leads to a pos­sible future for him. Des­pite its occa­sio­nal­ly des­pe­rate tone, Roméo Onze is ulti­ma­te­ly a gene­rous film in its depic­tion of Mont­réal as a terre d’accueil. La val­lée des larmes and Arwad mir­ror this image of Qué­bec as a wel­co­ming host, figu­red in synec­doche as an indi­vi­dual woman; but their res­pec­tive depic­tions of first-gene­ra­tion immi­grants from Pales­tine and Syria, nations inex­tri­ca­bly lin­ked to the Leba­nese Civil War, end tra­gi­cal­ly, revea­ling the migrant subject’s dif­fi­cul­ty to adapt des­pite the warm wel­come he receives.29

Middle Eas­tern Men and Qué­bé­coise Women in the Third Space: La val­lée des larmes and Arwad
In contrast to Lit­to­ral’s and Roméo Onze’s depic­tions of inte­gra­ted young Liba­no-Qué­bé­cois, La val­lée des larmes and Arwad fea­ture adult pro­ta­go­nists res­pec­ti­ve­ly rai­sed in Leba­non and Syria for whom depar­ture from the home­land remains more bit­ter than sweet. These films fore­ground the host nation’s role in the pro­cess of inte­gra­tion through Fran­co-Qué­bé­coise figures of wel­come, posi­ting a situa­tion of contact bet­ween Others that blurs the boun­da­ries bet­ween Self and Other.

Bei­rut-born Maryanne Zéhil set­tled in Qué­bec in 1997 and has since made four fic­tion fea­tures depic­ting immi­gra­tion from Leba­non to Qué­bec, inclu­ding La face cachée du bak­la­va (2020). Her second film, La val­lée des larmes, addresses the ques­tion of memo­ry and the need to recount trau­ma­tic past events through the device of an ano­ny­mous memoir deli­ve­red to Marie (Natha­lie Cou­pal), an attrac­tive middle-aged edi­tor for a Mont­réal publi­shing house devo­ted to human rights issues. Marie edu­cates her­self (and vie­wers with her) about the com­plexi­ty of the Leba­nese Civil War as she dis­co­vers its author, a pain­ter named “Joseph” (Joseph Anta­ki). His nar­ra­tive recounts the sto­ry of a Pales­ti­nian Mus­lim fami­ly living in Lebanon’s Sabra and Sha­ti­la refu­gee camps, which, in 1982, became vic­tim of a mas­sacre orga­ni­zed by the lar­ge­ly Chris­tian Leba­nese Forces, acti­ve­ly or pas­si­ve­ly aided by an elite Israe­li unit.30 Although Marie fails to help Joseph inte­grate into Qué­bec socie­ty, his sto­ry sends her on a jour­ney of self-dis­co­ve­ry. Whe­reas Lit­to­ral eva­cuates its sec­ta­rian coding of the Leba­nese Civil War, La val­lée des larmes unders­cores how conflicts in the grea­ter Middle East spilled over onto Leba­nese soil, lea­ving a bloo­dy mark. It direct­ly confronts dis­me­mo­ry, offe­ring a coun­ter-dis­course told from a Pales­ti­nian perspective.

A wit­ness, vic­tim and par­ti­ci­pant in that vio­lence, Joseph reveals in his manus­cript a double iden­ti­ty, assu­med long before his arri­val in Qué­bec. Spa­red from the mas­sacre by sheer coin­ci­dence, Joseph, named Ali at the time, had to hide his Mus­lim iden­ti­ty behind his assu­med Chris­tian name. La val­lée des larmes ree­nacts through fla­sh­back the trau­ma­tic events that led to Joseph’s split iden­ti­ty, also revea­ling the damage done to young egos by sec­ta­rian indoc­tri­na­tion. Even prior to the mas­sacre, as a Pales­ti­nian refu­gee dis­pla­ced by the Nak­ba (disas­ter), young Ali (Ziad Karam) dreamt of being a hero: “J’ai com­men­cé à me rêver, moi, Ali, en héros. Un che­va­lier blanc qui serait né pour accom­plir une mis­sion – celle de sau­ver son peuple de l’errance.” Later, his mother groo­med him for a dar­ker des­ti­ny: to avenge his male rela­tives mur­de­red in Sabra and Sha­ti­la. His manus­cript serves as a confes­sion, as he admits that he has emi­gra­ted to Cana­da to ful­fill his assi­gned mis­sion and sys­te­ma­ti­cal­ly assas­si­nate Leba­nese migrants lin­ked to the mas­sacre, trans­por­ting his violent past to the New World.

Zéhil skill­ful­ly with­holds infor­ma­tion, which makes the vie­wers feel sym­pa­thy for Joseph; only the memoir’s final ins­talment reveals and explains his crimes. A loyal son, he could not vio­late his mother’s will; he the­re­fore com- ple­ted the killings, not in a spi­rit of ven­geance but rather from a sense of filial duty. Although conflic­ted, since he had to aban­don his wife and chil­dren in Leba­non, Joseph can­not over­come the bur­den of his Pales­ti­nian indoc­tri­na- tion. He thus decides to inter­vene, stop­ping the cycle of vio­lence by killing him­self. Aware that there is no redemp­tion for him, he rejects the trans­for­ma­tive poten­tial of a new migrant iden­ti­ty in Qué­bec, but not before see­king ato­ne­ment by wri­ting his memoir. As he explains, “je ne peux pas vous dire toute la véri­té. […] Écrire, le simple fait d’écrire. Ça m’enlève un poids.” He and Marie agree that “l’écriture porte une trans­cen­dence.” Like Lit­to­ral, La val­lée des larmes com­bats the selec­tive memo­ry asso­cia­ted with the Leba­nese Civil War by scho­lars like Haug­bolle and Rabah, as Joseph/Ali asserts: “Au Liban, on a oublié les mas­sacres. […] Les Liba­nais n’ont pas de mémoire.” But it also warns against a remem­be­ring that fos­ters hate, as Joseph woe­ful­ly insists to Marie: “Les Pales­ti­niens ne l’oublieront jamais.”

Fur­ther­more, through the topoï of remem­be­ring and for­get­ting, Zéhil esta­blishes a paral­lel bet­ween two other­wise dif­ferent cultures in which Ali and Marie res­pec­ti­ve­ly were rai­sed. Joseph des­cribes Isla­mic socie­ty as matri- archal, invo­king the hye­na: “C’est la femelle qui domine le mâle au contraire de la plu­part des ani­maux. Le mâle doit se sou­mettre à elle s’il veut se faire accep­ter dans le groupe. Chez moi aus­si, les hommes doivent se sou­mettre aux femmes. […] Les femmes sont les gar­diennes de la tra­di­tion et des règles. Sans la rigi­di­té des femmes, la socié­té évo­lue­rait.” This des­crip­tion trig­gers a prise de conscience in Marie, as she attri­butes Qué­bec socie­ty with a simi­lar struc­ture: “Ma mère déci­dait de tout. Mon père don­nait jamais son avis.” Although offi­cial power struc­tures in these cultures are, in fact, more clear­ly patriar­chal, by des­cri­bing both Qué­bé­cois and Isla­mic socie­ties as matriar­chal, Zéhil blurs the dif­fe­rence bet­ween the two. Like Joseph, Marie was also coer­ced by her mother when a tee­na­ger: for­ced to have an abor­tion to avoid the nega­tive conse­quences of the on dit in still conser­va­tive Qué­bec, Marie’s backs­to­ry puts pri­vi­le­ged Wes­ter­ners’ domes­tic “tra­ge­dies” into pers­pec­tive in rela­tion to those suf­fe­red in the war-torn Middle East.31 It also shows how, in both cultures, paren­tal control leads chil­dren to (self-)destructive acts. Des­pite the une­qual power rela­tion bet­ween the pro­fes­sio­nal Fran­co- Qué­bé­coise and the immi­grant house pain­ter, the (pla­to­nic) inti­ma­cy that deve­lops bet­ween Marie and Joseph sug­gests not an encoun­ter bet­ween (a Fran­co-Qué­bé­coise) Self and (a migrant) Other, but rather that of two Others. La val­lée des larmes, like Roméo Onze, thus sub­verts the domi­nant para­digm in Qué­bé­cois cine­ma of the French-Cana­dian regard sur l’autre, as Joseph teaches Marie to look cri­ti­cal­ly at her­self and her society.

Simi­lar­ly, as a Third Space inter­ven­tion, Zéhil’s film direct­ly tar­gets a latent hypo­cri­sy in poli­ti­cal­ly cor­rect Qué­bec through sequences that estab- lish a “before and after” image of Marie. Prior to mee­ting Joseph, she feti­shizes the migrant males she meets, indul­ging in an Orien­ta­list pro­mis­cui­ty. As her awa­re­ness grows through a more authen­tic contact with Joseph, Marie con- fronts her boss (and ex-lover), Gilles (Hen­ri Chas­sé), who expresses reluc- tance to publish the memoir, invo­king post‑9/11 pre­ju­dices: “Ça inté­res­se­ra per­sonne à mon avis. […] C’est un sujet trop mélo­dra­ma­tique et… trop Arabe.” Marie pro­poses a dif­ferent image of twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry Qué­bé­cois as citi­zens of the world: “Parce qu’il faut être direc­te­ment impli­qué dans un conflit pour s’y inté­res­ser ? Non, il y a plein de gens qui veulent s’instruire, qui veulent s’informer, qui veulent faire par­tie des inté­rêts pla­né­taires. Et ces gens-là, dans notre socié­té, c’est des lais­sés pour compte !” Marie serves as a wit­ness who, by brin­ging a for­got­ten sto­ry back to light, does her part to end the cycle of vio­lence, but her trans­for­ma­tion is not com­plete until she jour- neys to Joseph/Ali’s for­mer home.

While visi­ting the osten­si­bly pea­ce­ful moun­tain vil­lage of Aash­ta­rout in the present day, Marie sees firs­thand the scars left by sec­ta­rian vio­lence. Noti­cing memo­rial pho­to­graphs on the city’s walls, she learns that the men in the pho­to­graphs (Joseph’s vic­tims) were all mur­de­red in Cana­da. When Marie (disin­ge­nuous­ly) asks why Joseph’s pho­to is not there, too, her guide is eva­sive, revea­ling local pre­ju­dices by noting: “Il n’est pas d’ici” and “Ce sont des Pales­ti­niens.” The fact that the men now memo­ria­li­zed as mar­tyrs were actual­ly the per­pe­tra­tors of the Sabra and Sha­ti­la mas­sacre reveals the extent to which the com­mu­ni­ty has enga­ged in the act of dis­me­mo­ry, selec­ti­ve­ly choo­sing what to remem­ber and what to for­get. Marie then gives Joseph’s manus­cript to Sœur Gabrielle (Ley­la Hakim), the nun who had shel­te­red Ali and his mother. Her ini­tial insis­tence that she did not know that the men Joseph had killed were impli­ca­ted in the mas­sacre once again sug­gests how a majo­ri­ty culture can effec­ti­ve­ly erase evi­dence of vio­lence per­pe­tra­ted to main­tain power and ter­ri­to­ry. Sœur Gabrielle explains that many emi­gra­ted to Cana­da and Aus­tra­lia “pour oublier les sou­ve­nirs.” Not only do these migrants’ depar­tures contri­bute to Lebanon’s dis­me­mo­ry of the war, but the nun admits that “moi aus­si, j’ai été frap­pée d’amnésie.” Final­ly, Marie gent­ly confronts Ali’s mother in the Sabra and Sha­ti­la camps; in an attempt to unders­tand the moti­va­tion behind the trans­for­ma­tion of her son into a killer, Marie asks her: “Qu’est-ce que vous avez gagné ?” The woman responds: “Ma dignité.”

Retur­ning home to Mont­réal, Marie dis­co­vers Joseph’s final chap­ter, mai­led just before his sui­cide, revea­ling his final wish:

[P]ar mon sui­cide, mère, je veux mettre fin au cycle de la haine. Mes enfants n’auront pas à ven­ger ma mort. Ni ne seront pas tués par ven­geance. […] Qu’ont-ils fait, eux, pour héri­ter de notre mal­heur ? […] J’ose enfin leur dire de se lever et de bri­ser la chaîne que vous nous avez léguée. Nous avons une autre façon d’accéder à nos rêves et nous vou­lons sur­tout pré­ser­ver nos enfants du bain de sang.

Thus, Joseph ful­fills his duty toward his mother, but he also urges for change. Having lear­ned the les­son Joseph sought to teach, Marie releases her own resent­ment toward her mother, pla­cing flo­wers on her tomb, a ges­ture that unders­cores the film’s mes­sage of remem­be­ring the truth, but also wor­king toward recon­ci­lia­tion. La val­lée des larmes, then, is as much about depic­ting the damage done to selves unable to leave behind the vio­lence that results when ter­ri­to­ry and iden­ti­ty are too clo­se­ly lin­ked as it is about the pos­si­bi­li­ty of hea­ling when that vio­lence is revea­led, reco­gni­zed and par­do­ned. Although Joseph can only find expia­tion in death, the Qué­bé­coise who genui­ne­ly seeks to unders­tand the Other finds com­fort and recon­ciles with her own past.

Writ­ten by Samer Naja­ri and co-direc­ted with Domi­nique Chi­la, Arwad depicts a Syrian immi­grant who, des­pite a simi­lar­ly gene­rous wel­come of a Qué­bé­coise, can­not find peace in his entre-deux iden­ti­ty. Not­withs­tan­ding its nor­ma­li­za­tion of the “Arab” male as a par­ti­ci­pant in Qué­bé­cois socie­ty, its conclu­sion sug­gests the (im)possibility of a hyphe­na­ted, Syrio-Qué­bé­cois, migrant sub­ject. French colo­nial inter­ven­tions and Lebanon’s Civil War lin­ked Syria’s des­ti­ny to Lebanon’s, and wri­ter Najari’s migrant ori­gins fur­ther link his film to the present cor­pus. Born in Rus­sia to a Syrian father and Leba­nese mother, he emi­gra­ted to Cana­da in 1994, stu­dying film at Concor­dia and then in France.32 Arwad eschews dis­cus­sions of poli­tics and reli­gion, focu­sing ins­tead on the pure­ly human and fami­lial dimen­sions of its migrant protagonist’s ulti­mate fai­lure to adapt to his host society.

In many ways, Ali Solei­man (Ram­zi Chou­kair) has suc­cess­ful­ly inte­gra­ted Qué­bec, has he got mar­ried and is now rai­sing his chil­dren there. Howe­ver, as in Lit­to­ral, a parent’s death trig­gers an iden­ti­ty cri­sis in the pro­ta­go­nist, who returns to the Syrian island of Arwad, brin­ging with him a Qué­bé­coise mis­tress, Marie (Fan­ny Mal­lette). Will­ful­ly swim­ming at night in dan­ge­rous cur­rents, he drowns, and his wife Gabrielle (Julie McCle­mens) must repa­triate his body to Qué­bec. Des­pite the ear­lier efforts of the two Fran­co-Qué­bé­coises to help him find home and ease in Cana­da (depic­ted in fla­sh­back), like his Liba­no-Qué­bé­cois coun­ter­parts, Syrian-born Ali’s return to the home­land fails to resolve his iden­ti­ty cri­sis. Like his Pales­ti­nian name-sake in La val­lée des larmes, he ulti­ma­te­ly self-des­tructs. Fla­sh­backs to an ear­lier per­iod show Ali embra­ced by his wife’s Fran­co-Qué­bé­cois fami­ly, but a see­min­gly ano­dyne anec­dote reveals his disease as a migrant sub­ject in Qué­bec. At his memo­rial ser­vice, Gabrielle recounts that when she intro­du­ced Ali to her fami­ly, he wore a hea­vy swea­ter, but then sat next to the fire. Swea­ting uncom­for­ta­bly, he none­the­less refu­sed to change places or remove the swea­ter. Her assess­ment exposes Ali’s exis­ten­tial dis­com­fort: “Il me disait qu’il allait bien, mais je savais qu’il ne se sen­tait pas bien.” Addi­tio­nal flash-backs reveal his gro­wing dis­sa­tis­fac­tion, pro­jec­ted onto his mar­riage; his wife’s pro­fes­sio­nal res­pon­si­bi­li­ties exa­cer­bate mari­tal ten­sions, as do their sha­red care of his dying mother (Dalal Ata).

Ali’s belo­ved mother sym­bo­lizes the impor­tance of remem­be­ring the past. She also repre­sents the migrant subject’s attach­ment to the home­land, which pre­vents him from ful­ly inte­gra­ting. From her dea­th­bed, the mater­nal voice inter­pel­lates Ali, (re)calling him back to Syria as she recounts a memo­ry from her youth about her wishing to attend a ball and dance the tan­go, which was pre­su­ma­bly an impos­sible desire in a conser­va­tive Arab fami­ly. Her tale of immi­gra­tion sug­gests hard­ship, but also free­dom, as she was allo­wed to dance in Qué­bec. The arri­val of Ali’s elder daugh­ter, Laï­la (Yas­mine Anta­bli), intro­duces the issue of migran­cy across three gene­ra­tions, contras­ting Ali’s inabi­li­ty to inte­grate with his daugh­ters’ sta­tus as ful­ly Qué­bé­coises. Later, a grief-stri­cken exchange reveals his alie­na­tion: as he sobs and as Laï­la com­forts him, he explains in Arabic—a lan­guage she doesn’t understand—why he deci­ded to speak only French to her. A stub­born child, she refu­sed to ans­wer when cal­led in Ara­bic; fea­ring he would lose her if he didn’t adapt to her rea­li­ty as Qué­bé­coise, he never spoke to her in Ara­bic again.

See­min­gly as an anti­dote to his unhap­pi­ness, but more like­ly from a self-des­truc­tive impulse, Ali begins an extra-mari­tal affair with Marie prior to his mother’s pas­sing and para­doxi­cal­ly brings her—a sym­bol of his own unac­cep­ted qué­bé­ci­té—along on his jour­ney “home.” Their arri­val on the island of Arwad reveals the para­doxi­cal iden­ti­ties of both the Syrio- and the Fran­co-Qué­bé­cois, as Ali’s conver­sa­tions with Syrians play out one set of cultu­ral ste­reo­types and those with Marie ano­ther. When Ali explains in Ara­bic to an older man (Muus­ta­pha Akou­ri) that they are visi­ting from Cana­da, he asks about Marie: “She speaks Cana­dian?” His error unders­cores Canada’s sta­tus as a set­tler colo­ny with no natio­nal lan­guage of its own and Ali’s reply that his com­pa­nion speaks French fur­ther signals the nation’s poli­ti­cal com­plexi­ty. His Syrian inter­lo­cu­tor can­not unders­tand the appa­rent para­dox of an indi­vi­dual who is both French and Cana­dian. The Third Space film- makers sub­vert the usual poles of Self and Other in Qué­bec natio­nal cine­ma, estran­ging Fran­co-Qué­bé­cois iden­ti­ty by ren­de­ring it ins­cru­ta­bly Other to the Arab Self.

Fur­ther Syrian-cen­te­red misun­ders­tan­dings occur as Ali chats with a local wai­ter (Aymen Kol­mo­ha­med), who asks if Cana­da is near Aus­tra­lia, ano­ther des­ti­na­tion for Leba­nese emi­grants. Since the Syrian mail is unre­liable, he hopes Ali can deli­ver a let­ter to an uncle there.33 Ali responds to the waiter’s que­ry about pos­sible migra­tion with a ques­tion of his own: “Aren’t you hap­py here?”, to which the wai­ter retorts: “If it’s so great here, why did you go?” Ali replies: “It’s not that simple.” Arwad never explains pre­ci­se­ly why Ali and his mother left Syria, but his res­ponse points to the com­plexi­ty of a life in exile; he may have had good rea­sons for lea­ving home, yet he still longs to return. When he does, howe­ver, he finds that he has become a stran­ger there. Unfor­tu­na­te­ly, Ali never unders­tands that his home and his fami­ly are no lon­ger on Arwad, and that Qué­bec has now become his true home, as Gabrielle’s memo­rial speech indicates.

Gabrielle has clear­ly reflec­ted on Ali’s final actions: “Je pense qu’il vou­lait juste prou­ver qu’il était tou­jours un enfant d’Arwad. Mais c’était com­plète- ment faux. Ali était plus d’Arwad. Il était d’ici, de Mont­réal, de sa famille, de son ter­rain de foot. Mais cela, il ne l’a jamais com­pris.” Not only does her eulo­gy ack­now­ledge the in-bet­ween nature of migrant sub­jec­ti­vi­ty, it also evokes Sara Ahmed’s explo­ra­tion of iden­ti­ty as a ques­tion of orien­ta­tion in Queer Phe­no­me­no­lo­gy (2006). Whe­reas “orien­ta­tion is about making the strange fami­liar,” Ali’s return to Arwad has made the fami­liar strange.34 Caught bet­ween the Old World and the New, Ali suf­fers a form of diso­rien­ta­tion; indeed, pul­led by the sea’s cur­rents, he lite­ral­ly loses his way and drowns. Gabrielle unders­tands her husband’s exis­ten­tial suf­fe­ring, his ina- bili­ty to navi­gate the tidal waters of the in-bet­ween space of migrant iden­ti­ty: “Ali n’est plus Syrien – on le lui rap­pelle constam­ment durant son séjour à Arwad –, mais il ne se sent pas non plus com­plè­te­ment Qué­bé­cois.”35 It is not, then, that Ali did not belong in Qué­bec; he just did not rea­lize that he belonged.

Gabrielle’s insis­tence on her husband’s belon­ging in Qué­bec is an assess­ment based not on an essen­tia­li­zed geo­gra­phy of birth, but rather on a human geo­gra­phy of rela­tio­na­li­ty to people and places. In contrast with Gabrielle’s gene­ro­si­ty of spi­rit and unders­tan­ding, Arwad’s “other woman,” Marie, repre­sents the pro­vin­cial who reveals ingrai­ned pre­ju­dices lying beneath a thin veneer of offi­cial accom­mo­da­tion and/or an Orien­ta­list curio­si­ty about the Other. Arwad sets in oppo­si­tion two forms of the host province’s pos­sible recep­tion of the migrant sub­ject into two dis­tinct female cha­rac­ters. See­min­gly para­ly­zed by her inabi­li­ty to speak Ara­bic on Arwad, Marie fre­quent­ly waits alone in their hotel room for Ali to guide her; she typi­fies the Qué­bé­coise sur­pri­sed by dif­fe­rence, taking her own recei­ved ideas as facts. When tea is ser­ved at break­fast, Marie finds it too hot; she asks Ali: “Com­ment tu fais?” His res­ponse, although given jokin­gly, reveals her chil­di­sh­ness: “J’ai une tech­nique. Si c’est trop chaud, j’attends avant de boire.” Later, when he teases her that meals, and mice, are inclu­ded in the $20 per night hotel rate, she contra­dicts him: “C’est connu les sou­ris savent pas nager.” Her insis­tence that there couldn’t pos­si­bly be mice on an island, a condes­cen­ding denial of the native son’s know­ledge of the land, reveals her ingrai­ned Occi­den­ta­lism. Simi­lar­ly, her insis­tence on nee­ding a biki­ni in order to go swim­ming pro­vides ano­ther example of cultu­ral confu­sion, illu­mi­na­ting Marie’s strange blend as a Qué­bé­coise of Wes­tern sophis­ti­ca­tion cou­pled with pro­vin­cial igno­rance. When Ali sug­gests they go skin­ny dip­ping after dark, she asks: “Sérieux ?” Uncons­cious of the contra­dic­tions in her own cultu­ral conventions—she can swim in a revea­ling biki­ni but can’t ima­gine swim­ming nude—Marie also signals her pre­con­cep­tions about what is per­mit­ted and for­bid­den in a pre-domi­nant­ly Mus­lim nation.

Film cri­tics in Qué­bec relate Ali’s beha­viour to his migrant sta­tus: “Soli­taire, iso­lé et éloi­gné de ses racines, le Néo-Qué­bé­cois semble éprou- ver de la dif­fi­cul­té à se posi­tion­ner entre sa terre natale et Mont­réal, ville d’adoption.”36 While I agree with this assess­ment, I also situate Arwad with Roméo 11 as pre­sen­ting pro­ta­go­nists who hap­pens to be migrants, but who also resemble yet ano­ther ite­ra­tion of the qué­bé­cois loser figure found in twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry Qué­bec natio­nal cine­ma. Ali’s bouts of depres­sion and his self-exclu­sion at social gathe­rings invoke simi­lar beha­viours in Fran­co- Qué­bé­cois “men in pain,” like the pro­ta­go­nists of Nos êtres chers (Anne Émond, 2015) or Paul Doucet’s cha­rac­ters in Ear­ly Win­ter (Michael Rowe, 2015) and La garde (Syl­vain Archam­bault, 2014).37 Ali’s inabi­li­ty to inte­grate into Qué­bec socie­ty des­pite the warmth of the wel­come he receives sug­gests that Arwad consi­ders its pro­ta­go­nist not so much as an “Other,” but rather as yet ano­ther varie­ty of the alie­na­ted Qué­bé­cois male. In its simul­ta­neous embrace and vio­la­tion of natio­nal film conven­tions, Arwad is a Third Space text that reveals the contra­dic­tions in Québec’s offi­cial ideo­lo­gy of accom­mo­da­tion (Gabrielle’s atti­tude), which can­not com­ple­te­ly erase long­stan­ding pre­ju­dices about dif­fe­rence (Marie’s). In Arwad and La val­lée des larmes, the Qué­bé­coise cha­rac­ters are thus as essen­tial to the nar­ra­tive as the migrant males that they depict. But what about the migrant female character?

Trans­cul­tu­ral Women: De ma fenêtre sans mai­son et L’autre côté de novembre
De ma fenêtre sans mai­son refers to a fami­ly home in the vil­lage of Mtein that lies in ruins, wai­ting to be rebuilt, a meta­phor for the bro­ken mother/daughter rela­tion­ship that Maryanne Zéhil’s first fea­ture film explores. With direct refe­rences to the Leba­nese Civil War, but also focu­sed on Lebanon’s conser­va­tive culture and suf­fo­ca­tion of women and indi­vi­dual rights, a pro­logue depicts its female pro­ta­go­nist, Sana Tou­ma (Louise Por­tal), aban­do­ning both Bei­rut and her four-year old child in 1989. In the present day, “une avo­cate très connue à Mont­réal,” Sana has com­ple­te­ly inte­gra­ted into Qué­bec socie­ty, but invites her now adult daugh­ter, Dou­nia (Renée Tho­mas), to visit after her father’s death. Sana’s life in Mont­réal is that of any pri­vi­le­ged urban pro­fes­sio­nal, living in the tren­dy Pla­teau Mont-Royal. Her only Leba­nese friend, Hoda (Hélène Mer­cier), leads a trou­bled life of mari­tal abuse and pos­sible alco­ho­lism, but Hoda astu­te­ly signals not only the extent of Sana’s assi­mi­la­tion, but also her emo­tio­nal detach­ment: “Elle est pire que les Qué­bé­cois. Ça vit seule, ça sort seule.” Sana none­the­less main­tains an active sexual rela­tion­ship in mid-life with the govern­ment offi­cial Denis (Jean-Fran­çois Blan­chard). In De ma fenêtre sans mai­son, sexual libe­ra­tion figures the West’s and Québec’s indi­vi­dual free­doms, contras­ting Sana’s ful­filment with Arab socie­ties’ sexual repres­sion. Her bro­ther Akram (Walid El Alay­li) clo­sets his homo­sexua­li­ty in Leba­non, and her daugh­ter Dou­nia dis­plays a prude’s judg- men­ta­lism cou­pled with pru­rient curio­si­ty. A lin­guis­tic gap unders­cores the cultu­ral gap that divides the cha­rac­ters, revea­led through French-edu­ca­ted Dounia’s inabi­li­ty to unders­tand the Qué­bé­cois ver­na­cu­lar term for a signi­fi­cant other, “mon chum.”

Dou­nia des­cribes her mother’s life­style as forei­gn, high­ligh­ting Sana’s inte­gra­tion to Qué­bec socie­ty and dif­fe­rence from other Leba­nese migrants depic­ted in the film. Their atti­tudes and subal­tern occu­pa­tions contrast with Sana’s, as does their lon­ging for the home­land that she wants to for­get; for example, Hoda nos­tal­gi­cal­ly views pho­tos from 1982, “pen­dant l’invasion israé­lienne.” She advises her friends not to cri­ti­cize the Qué­bé­cois, “les gens d’ici,” in Sana’s pre­sence because she might “[les] mettre à la porte.” Indeed, Sana objects when someone insists that he or she “ retournerai[t] à Bey­routh si les Syriens et les Juifs n’occupaient pas [leur] pays.” She cor­rects her visi- tor: “Tu veux dire les Israé­liens ?” and for­bids Dou­nia from tel­ling a “Jewish” joke.

Such eth­nic and reli­gious pre­ju­dices cut both ways, howe­ver. Although for the most part, De ma fenêtre sans mai­son favours Sana’s adop­ted val- ues, those of contem­po­ra­ry Qué­bec, over those of conser­va­tive Leba­non, not all Qué­bé­cois dis­play an equal degree of accom­mo­da­tion. Zéhil reveals the contra­dic­tions bet­ween offi­cial ideo­lo­gy and indi­vi­dual atti­tudes in Qué­bec through the igno­rance of Dounia’s new friend Syl­vie (Mari­loup Wolfe). Noti­cing Dounia’s scar from “la guerre,” she asks: “Quelle guerre ?” and must be told (along with audience mem­bers): “La guerre du Liban.” Fur­ther­more, Syl­vie fails to remem­ber her new friend’s “exo­tic” name and thinks in ste­reo­types. When Dou­nia com­plains about the cold, she quips: “Les immi­grés disent tous ça.” Even Sana must admit that all wel­comes are not equal when, seeing her mother help a Spa­nish-spea­king immi­grant threa­te­ned with depor­ta­tion, Dou­nia asks: “Je croyais que le Cana­da était un pays d’accueil.” Sana cla­ri­fies: “Il l’est, mais pas tou­jours.” Final­ly, when Sana’s Anglo­phone Cana­dian friend Bar­ba­ra (Cathe­rine Col­vey) reveals her igno­rance about “les Arabes,” mother and daugh­ter address the com­plex ques­tion of Leba­nese iden­ti­ty. Dou­nia confronts her mother for wel­co­ming Bar­ba­ra, a per­son who insul­ted her people, into her home, but Sana retorts “les Arabes ne sont pas mon peuple.” Dou­nia then sar­cas­ti­cal­ly invokes one of her nation’s attempts to create a dis­tinct ima­gi­ned com­mu­ni­ty for itself by asking: “Et c’est qui ton peuple ? … Les Phé­ni­ciens ?”38

Throu­ghout her daughter’s visit, Sana expresses ambi­va­lence about her pre­sence, unable to explain to Dou­nia why she invi­ted her: “Je ne sais pas trop […]. On va essayer de tirer le mieux de ces trois semaines sans trop remuer le pas­sé.” In a pro­logue fla­sh­back to her depar­ture, Sana explains to her young daugh­ter that she has to leave Leba­non to sur­vive: “Maman doit par­tir au Cana­da. Sinon, elle ne pour­ra plus res­pi­rer.” Once she has tur­ned the page, Sana almost lite­ral­ly never looks back. When Dou­nia confronts her, Sana insists that she has not forgotten—“je n’ai rien oublié, Dounia”—but none­the­less wishes to silence a pain­ful Leba­nese past: “Tout ça est loin, Dou­nia. Le pas­sé est fini, […] enter­ré. Tout ce que j’ai à t’offrir, c’est aujourd’hui. Et demain.” Sana, like the parents of other Leba­nese pro­ta­go­nists, par­takes in the cultu­ral phe­no­me­non of dis­me­mo­ry. Sana none­the­less expresses her desire to rebuild her rela­tion­ship with Dou­nia des­pite the cultu­ral and emo­tio­nal gap bet­ween them. This gap, which fre­quent­ly seems insur­moun­table, has become so wide that it requires a trans­for­ma­tio­nal jour­ney for the two women to final­ly unders­tand each other better.

Sana’s see­min­gly com­plete assi­mi­la­tion reveals how the migrant expe­rience changes a sub­ject, making a return “home” seem impos­sible. At the same time, Sana admits the entre-deux nature of her migrant iden­ti­ty. Tel­ling Dou­nia that she left Leba­non because “[i]l n’y avait pas de place pour moi, là-bas,” her daugh­ter asks: “Et ici ?” Sana then also admits: “Non plus. Ici il y a beau­coup d’espace.” Dif­fe­ren­tia­ting bet­ween fin­ding her “place” and the free­dom affor­ded by lots of “space,” Sana reveals that she is not as com­for­table as she seems. Her depar­ture has left a void, the win­dow without a home of the film’s title that only an attemp­ted return can fill. The occa­sion arises when, not long after Dounia’s return to Leba­non, her grand­mo­ther and Sana’s mother, Téta (Ley­la Hakim), dies. Like Joseph/Ali’s mother in La val­lée des larmes, Téta sym­bo­lizes the trans­mis­sion of conser­va­tive Arab values through her insis­tence that Dou­nia conform to the oral tra­di­tion of Zah­ra, which forces her to reject her true love and mar­ry out of duty. Like her own daugh­ter in this res­pect, Sana resents her mother’s rigi­di­ty, decla­ring that her heart was made of stone. Dou­nia dis­proves this assump­tion, sho­wing Sana a room full of pho­tos, her grandmother’s shrine to the lost daugh­ter whose depar­ture she never unders­tood. Sana then visits the rui­ned fami­ly home with her daugh­ter, offe­ring her not only the pri­ce­less gift of her memo­ries there, but also giving it to Dou­nia to rebuild. Zéhil thus again affirms the hea­ling power of tru­th­ful memo­ry, revea­ling how Sana’s dis­me­mo­ry fos­te­red resentment.

The film concludes with a demons­tra­tion of both women’s growth as they exchange phy­si­cal spaces: Dou­nia arrives in Mont­réal to spend time on her own, while her mother sits on a beach in Bei­rut. Sim­ply enjoying this place, Sana chats with an elder­ly man who men­tions his son, also an immi­grant but to Aus­tra­lia, whom he has not seen in seven years. Resi­gned, he admits : “On finit par s’habituer à tout, même à l’humiliation, la misère, le chaos […]. Je suis triste parce que rien ne chan­ge­ra dans ce pays et ceux qu’on aime sont par­tis.” His speech invokes, of course, the famous line from Louis Hémon’s Maria Chap­de­laine (1913), whose pro­ta­go­nist, like Zah­ra, mar­ried for duty and not for love. De ma fenêtre sans mai­son closes on a paral­lel bet­ween the two nations that other­wise appear so dif­ferent throu­ghout the film, echoing a topos also seen in Zéhil’s La val­lée des larmes.

Zéhil’s third film, L’autre côté de novembre, ima­gines paral­lel lives for a single female pro­ta­go­nist. It engages Liba­no-Qué­bé­cois iden­ti­ty by exter- nali­zing a double, pro­jec­ting the Leba­nese Self as some­thing that haunts the migrant Qué­bé­coise (and vice ver­sa). Like Sana in De ma fenêtre sans mai- son, Léa (Arsi­née Khan­jian) emi­gra­ted from Leba­non in the 1970s and is now a suc­cess­ful neu­ro­sur­geon. Codi­fying her com­plete inte­gra­tion, her circle of friends fea­tures fami­liar Qué­bé­cois actors: Louise (Pas­cale Bus­sières), Ber­nard (Marc Labrèche) and Michel (David La Haye). Léa first expe­riences trou­bling hal­lu­ci­na­tions while jog­ging, belie­ving a young woman is fol­lo­wing her along the trail; see­king an expla­na­tion, she consults a col­league (Donald Pilon). Through his diag­no­sis of a medi­cal condi­tion cau­sing memo­ry loss, pos­si­bly ear­ly onset Alzheimer’s, Zéhil expli­cit­ly invokes the pro­blem of Léa (Arsi­née Kan­jian, cen­ter) who emi­grates is suc­cess­ful­ly inte­gra­ted into Qué­bé­cois socie­ty, sur­roun­ded by friends (Sophie Bour­geois, David LaHaye, Marc Labrèche, Pas­cale Bussières).

Lebanon’s col­lec­tive amne­sia. Léa’s impos­sible rela­tion­ship with time, which para­doxi­cal­ly com­bines a com­pul­sive repe­ti­tion of a past sce­na­rio with memo­ry loss, resembles the effects of post-trau­ma­tic stress disor­der (PTSD).39

Sequences in contem­po­ra­ry Mont­réal alter­nate with depic­tions of Léa’s alter ego, Lay­la, in Leba­non, even­tual­ly sug­ges­ting that the film’s nar­ra­tive fol­lows two pos­sible life tra­jec­to­ries for the same young woman. One suc­cess­ful­ly emi­gra­ted to Cana­da to become Léa, while the other, who kept the name Lay­la, was unable to migrate when the oppor­tu­ni­ty pre­sen­ted itself. Ins­tead, she accep­ted a mar­riage arran­ged by her parents and became a mother. Now middle-aged, she is a suc­cess­ful desi­gner and seam­stress in a moun­tain vil­lage. A pro­logue, set in 1974 Aïn el Maten, reveals that Layla/Léa’s des­ti­nies are also inter­t­wi­ned with that of her friend, Sami­ra (Béa­trice Mou­khai­ber), who plays a key role on the fate­ful Novem­ber day, evo­ked in the film’s title, when Layla’s and Léa’s sto­ry­lines diverge.

Convin­ced that she has seen Sami­ra in a hos­pi­tal hall­way (although pos­si­bly suf­fe­ring a hal­lu­ci­na­tion), present-day Léa attempts to trace her long lost friend’s whe­rea­bouts. She soon meets a dead end: no records exist after a 1976 police report of domes­tic abuse. Like Léa, present-day Lay­la has uncon­trol­lable memo­ries of 1974 when she and Sami­ra were sepa­ra­ted. In contrast with Léa’s ele­gant appea­rance and com­for­table Wes­tern life­style, Layla—played by a near­ly unre­co­gni­zable Kazan­jian without make-up, her hair in a bun— wears conser­va­tive clothes and faces finan­cial and fami­ly pro­blems. Whe­reas Léa esca­ped the Civil War (her 1974 depar­ture pre­cedes the out­break of open hos­ti­li­ties), Layla’s present-day com­pa­triots reveal Lebanon’s ongoing struggle to reco­ver, reci­ting pro­verb-like asser­tions such as “This dam­ned coun­try is stuck in the stone age,” “A girl is less desi­rable than disease in this coun­try” and “When money’s invol­ved the dead can rise again.”

L’autre côté de novembre addresses eco­no­mic inequality’s role in exa­cer­ba­ting sec­ta­rian dif­fe­rences, also revea­ling that all women, rich and poor alike, are prone to vic­ti­mi­za­tion in Lebanon’s tra­di­tio­na­list, patriar­chal socie­ty.40 For example, Samira’s pre­sence in 1976 Mont­réal reflects weal­thy fami­lies’ exo­dus to avoid the war’s des­truc­tion of life and assets, but it also shows that her affluence can­not pro­tect her from a violent hus­band. In the present day, Layla’s son Bra­him (Mike Ayva­zian), repre­sen­ting a gene­ra­tion of post-war young men rui­ned by the conflict’s moral vaga­ries, sexual­ly abuses an impo­ve­ri­shed girl. Fur­ther­more, the middle-class Maro­nite Lay­la suf­fers the scorn of her weal­thy patro­ness who storms in from Bei­rut and berates her as a “pea­sant,” a hea­vi­ly coded insult when utte­red by a Druze.41 This cli­mac­tic scene, howe­ver, trig­gers a cri­sis that allows Lay­la to renew fami­ly ties (although she has bani­shed her son), lea­ding to the reve­la­tion that she is, some­how, the same Lay­la seen in Léa’s hal­lu­ci­na­tions. Pre­ven­ted from emi­gra­ting by her fian­cé, Yous­sef (Bsha­ra Atal­lah), she agrees to mar­ry him, but sets condi­tions that prevent her from sha­ring Samira’s fate. In this alter- nate exis­tence, ins­tead of emi­gra­ting to Mont­réal, Sami­ra com­mits sui­cide to escape her abu­sive marriage.

L’autre côté de novembre is clear­ly a femi­nist condem­na­tion of the dam- age that tra­di­tio­nal Leba­nese values cause for gene­ra­tions of women and fam- ilies. By split­ting a single cha­rac­ter into two sepa­rate iden­ti­ties, one a migrant Liba­no-Qué­bé­coise, the other remai­ning in Leba­non, Zéhil also explores the dif­ferent pos­si­bi­li­ties offe­red to women in each socie­ty. Although Léa appears unpro­ble­ma­ti­cal­ly assi­mi­la­ted in contem­po­ra­ry Qué­bec, her Leba­nese back- ground none­the­less haunts her. In addi­tion to visions of her youn­ger self and of Sami­ra, she awakes from a dream to see a shee­ted, ghost­ly figure, which turns out to be a white lab coat on a han­ger. Fur­ther­more, Samira’s fate in Mont­réal unders­cores how the homeland’s vio­lence fol­lows migrants to their host ter­ri­to­ry. Although she esca­ped war-torn Leba­non, Sami­ra remains a pri­so­ner in her Saint-Lam­bert home, and—like so many vic­tims of the Civil War in Lebanon—she ulti­ma­te­ly “disap­pears.” Léa’s situa­tion thus alle­go­rizes that of the migrant Leba­nese who have suc­cess­ful­ly assi­mi­la­ted by for­get­ting the pain­ful aspects of the homeland—participating in the col­lec­tive dis­me­mo­ry of the war—while also sug­ges­ting the even­tual per­ni­cious after-effects of this repres­sed memory.

L’autre côté de novembre feels no com­pul­sion to “explain” the para­dox of its protagonist’s double life. Both Léa and Lay­la appear as ful­ly “real;” but only Lay­la expli­cit­ly addresses the pos­si­bi­li­ty of an alter­nate rea­li­ty in which she did migrate to Cana­da, tel­ling her daugh­ter: “You might not have been born, you know.” Although this awa­re­ness sug­gests that she might be the “real” Lay­la, the film’s final sequence leaves the ques­tion of which of these women is the authen­tic sub­ject han­ging in the balance. As Léa, once again jog­ging in Mont­réal, has a glimpse of her youn­ger self, the came­ra reveals twen­ty- year-old Lay­la loo­king first to a ver­sion of her older self, Léa, and then to the other, Lay­la. Zéhil thus refuses to iden­ti­fy the “right” course of action for her pro­ta­go­nist, unders­co­ring the very “in-bet­ween­ness” of migrant iden­ti­ty. Léa/Layla remain caught bet­ween two pos­si­bi­li­ties. Like the other films in the cor­pus stu­died here, Zéhil’s work reflects aspects of Bhabha’s Third Space of cultu­ral pro­duc­tions, as it sub­verts domi­nant social ideo­lo­gies and conven­tions in Qué­bec natio­nal cine­ma. Not only does a large por­tion of the dia­logue occur in Leba­nese Ara­bic, its mise en scène of two paral­lel exis­tences trans­cends Québec’s docu­men­ta­rian tradition.

What, then, is the Libano-Québécois(e)? The films exa­mi­ned here pro­pose mul­tiple ans­wers in their repre­sen­ta­tions of pro­ta­go­nists who have made—or saw for­ced upon them—different life choices. Zéhil’s femi­nist films sug­gest, although not unpro­ble­ma­ti­cal­ly, that women can only find indi­vi­dual ful­fillment in the West: her Liba­no-Qué­bé­coise pro­ta­go­nists, Sana and Léa, appear ful­ly inte­gra­ted into the host socie­ty, a fact per­haps aided by their higher level of edu­ca­tion, com­for­table eco­no­mic situa­tions and rejec­tion of sec­ta­rian rival­ries in the modern secu­lar socie­ty. They also belong to a “less visible” mino­ri­ty in rela­tion to Montréal’s other cultu­ral com­mu­ni­ties, although the films lar­ge­ly elide ques­tions of race. Des­pite the extent of their suc­cess in Qué­bec, the women por­trayed in Zéhil’s films remain haun­ted by a Leba­nese past that they can­not com­ple­te­ly over­come: Sana sacri­fi­ced her daugh­ter and Léa is haun­ted by Samira’s “ghost.”

Migrant men expe­rience grea­ter dif­fi­cul­ty in resol­ving the split inherent to their hyphe­na­ted, hybrid iden­ti­ty. Of course, the Pales­ti­nian Mus­lim pro­ta­go­nist of Zéhil’s La val­lée des larmes assumes (for his own sur­vi­val) a false iden­ti­ty as a Chris­tian in Leba­non and arrives in Qué­bec with no inten­tion of inte­gra­tion. There is no place for the type of vio­lence that he brings on Cana­dian soil, it would seem, and so he remains doo­med des­pite Marie’s hos­pi­ta­li­ty. His case illus­trates Sher­ry Simon’s asser­tion that “[l]a proxi­mi­té des cultures n’est certes pas une condi­tion suf­fi­sante à l’hybridation. Là où vit la vio­lence poli­tique, l’hybridité n’a pas droit de cité. Là où règne l’intégrisme, elle fait mieux de se cacher.”42 Although Ali the Syrian osten­si­bly embraces Québec’s hos­pi­ta­li­ty, mar­rying and foun­ding a fami­ly with Gabrielle, he, too, appears unable to leave the bag­gage of his home­land behind. Exis­ten­tial­ly diso­rien­ted, he returns to it a stran­ger, and isn’t able to return to Québec.

The youn­ger gene­ra­tion of Liba­no-Qué­bé­cois repre­sen­ted in Lit­to­ral and Roméo Onze ful­ly adapts to its parents’ adop­ted home, making it its own, but none­the­less suf­fers from alie­na­tion because of the hybrid iden­ti­ties thrust upon it. Wahab, in Lit­to­ral, resembles any other unhy­phe­na­ted Qué­bé­cois youth; his jour­ney to his father’s home­land, howe­ver, leads him to embrace his hybrid iden­ti­ty as Liba­no-Qué­bé­cois, des­pite the pain that goes with it. In Roméo Onze, Rami rejects his parents’ values and wants to live like any other young Qué­bé­cois, adop­ting a non-Ara­bic name for his idea­li­zed online alter ego. But his dif­fe­rence derives as much from indi­vi­dual per­so­na­li­ty traits and phy­si­cal disa­bi­li­ty as from his migrant iden­ti­ty; Grbovic’s film sug­gests that this young male Liba­no-Qué­bé­cois’s alie­na­tion mir­rors that of many other Fran­co-Qué­bé­cois. That his fami­ly is Leba­nese appears only inci­den­tal, com- poun­ding per­haps his sense of iso­la­tion, but not defi­ni­tive of it. To become whole, he must embrace the com­mu­ni­ty offe­red to him.

The range of Liba­no-Qué­bé­cois sub­jec­ti­vi­ties repre­sen­ted in this cor­pus sheds light on the array of pos­si­bi­li­ties for migrant iden­ti­ties in Qué­bec. Although some end tra­gi­cal­ly (ulti­ma­te­ly com­men­ting on the lin­ge­ring after- effects of the Leba­nese Civil War even on those who have esca­ped it), taken as a whole, these films cele­brate migrant iden­ti­ties as non-mono­li­thic. And, although that Self may remain divi­ded (or even lite­ral­ly dou­bled), in a reflec­tion of the “in-bet­ween” theo­ri­zed by Robin, Bhabha and others, those who sur­vive the iden­ti­ty quests these films depict emerge as whole des­pite their mul­ti­pli­ci­ty. As Third Space inter­ven­tions, they resist the para­digms of colo­nia­lism, some­times nego­tia­ting pain­ful post­co­lo­nial rea­li­ties and ack­now­led­ging that not all will sur­vive, as the heri­tage of colo­nial vio­lence conti­nues to leave vic­tims in its wake.

Author Bio­gra­phy

Amy J. Ran­som is pro­fes­sor of French at Cen­tral Michi­gan Uni­ver­si­ty and edi­tor of the scho­lar­ly jour­nal Qué­bec Stu­dies. She has publi­shed wide­ly on Québec’s popu­lar culture, inclu­ding the books Science Fic­tion from Qué­bec: A Post­co­lo­nial Stu­dy (McFar­land, 2009) and Hockey PQ: Canada’s Game in Quebec’s Popu­lar Culture (Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Press, 2014). In addi­tion, her articles on Hai­tian-Cana­dian wri­ters Gérard Étienne, Dany Lafer­rière, and Stan­ley Péan have appea­red in jour­nals and edi­ted volumes. She is cur­rent­ly wor­king on a book-length pro­ject on the his­to­ri­cal ima­gi­na­tion in twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry Qué­bé­cois film.


  1. Michel Cou­lombe, “Les anglo­phones et les immi­grants dans le ciné­ma qué­bé­cois: un ciné­ma blanc, blanc, blanc?,” Ciné-Bulles 28.4 (2010): 34–37.
  2. Indeed, seve­ral cri­tics insist that the rap­port with the “Other” has become a domi­nant theme in Qué­bec natio­nal cine­ma. See Gérald Gru­geau, “Mont­réal métis­sée: la diver­si­té cultu­relle à l’écran,” 24 images 177 (2016): 32–35; Marie-Claude Loi­selle, “De l’Autre amou­reux à l’Autre man­quant,” 24 images 166 (2014): 33–39 ; and Claire Valade, “Sor­tir du ter­roir pour voir le monde,” Séquences 252 (2008): 32–33.
  3. Regar­ding Third Space post­co­lo­nial cultu­ral pro­duc­tions, see Homi K. Bhabha, Loca­ting Culture (Lon­don & New York: Rout­ledge, 2004 [1994]), 54. Regar­ding Régine Robin’s notion of entre-deux, see Régine Robin, Kaf­ka (Paris: Bel­fond, 1989) and Ania Loom­ba, Colonialism/ Post­co­lo­nia­lism (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 1998), 173. Regar­ding Lebanon’s memo­ry of the war, see Sune Haug­bolle, War and Memo­ry in Leba­non (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2010), 19 and Nor­man Saa­di Nikro, The Frag­men­ting Force of Memo­ry: Self, Lite­ra­ry Style, and Civil War in Leba­non (New­castle upon Tyne: Cam­bridge Scho­lars, 2012), 1.
  4. See Faw­waz Tara­bul­si, A His­to­ry of Modern Leba­non. 2nd edi­tion (Lon­don: Plu­to Press, 2012); Makram Rabah, Conflict on Mount Leba­non: the Druze, the Maro­nites, and Col­lec­tive Memo­ry (Edin­burgh: Edin­burgh Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2020) and Daniel Byman and Ken­neth Michael Pol­lack, Things Fall Apart: Contai­ning the Spillo­ver from an Ira­qi Civil War (Washing­ton, D.C.: Broo­kings Ins­ti­tu­tion Press, 2007), 139.
  5. Sta­tis­tics Cana­da, “The Leba­nese Com­mu­ni­ty in Cana­da” (2007), www.statcan.gc.ca (consul­ted on 15 Janua­ry 2022).
  6. See Fran­çoise Lion­net, “‘Logiques métisses:’ Cultu­ral Appro­pria­tion and Post­co­lo­nial Repre­sen­ta­tions,” in Post­co­lo­nial Sub­jects: Fran­co­phone Women Wri­ters, Mary Jean Green et al., eds. (Min­nea­po­lis: Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­ne­so­ta Press, 1996), 321–343; and Sher­ry Simon, Hybri­di­té cultu­relle (Mont­réal: Île de la tortue/Les Éle­men­taires-Une Ency­clo­pé­die vivante, 1999).
  7. Robin, Kaf­ka, 10; Ania Loom­ba, Colonialism/Postcolonialism, 177.
  8. Bhabha, Loca­ting Culture, 54.
  9. See Tara­bul­si, A His­to­ry of Modern Leba­non, 37, 49–50, 54–55, 75, 89–90.
  10. Until the 2019 Bill 21, Act on the Lai­ci­ty of the State (see http://legisquebec.gouv.qc.ca/en/ showdoc/cs/L‑0.3, consul­ted on 15 Janua­ry 2022), the offi­cial poli­cy of the Govern­ment of Qué­bec appea­red to be one of accom­mo­da­tion, but ideo­lo­gy, atti­tudes and belief are not neces- sari­ly deter­mi­ned by policy.
  11. Saa­di Nikro, The Frag­men­ting Force of Memo­ry, 1; Rabah, Conflict on Mount Leba­non, 299.
  12. Haug­bolle, War and Memo­ry in Leba­non, 2.
  13. On Incen­dies’s recep­tion, see, for example: Erin Hur­ley, “What Conso­la­tion: Incen­dies on Stage and Screen,” Alt.theatre: Cultu­ral Diver­si­ty and the Stage 8.3 (March 2011): 23–28; Clau­dia Kotte, “Zero Degrees of Sepa­ra­tion: Post-Exi­lic Return in Denis Villeneuve’s Incen­dies,” in Cine­ma­tic Home­co­mings: Exile and Return in Trans­na­tio­nal Cine­ma, Rebec­ca Prime, ed. (New York: Bloom­sbu­ry Aca­de­mic, 2014), 287–302; Esther Pel­le­tier and Irène Roy, “Incen­dies: Évo­quer pour sus­ci­ter l’imaginaire et mon­trer plu­tôt que dire,” Nou­velles Études Fran­co­phones 30.2 (2015): 111– 128; Tho­mas Richard, “Mémoire de guerre et de résis­tance dans les films liba­nais,” Contem­po­ra­ry French and Fran­co­phone Stu­dies 18.5 (2014): 505–513. The lat­ter ana­lyzes Incen­dies along with films pro­du­ced in Leba­non and Israel. Apart from a sparse col­lec­tion of film reviews, I only found Denis Bachand’s per­cep­tive ana­ly­sis of Lit­to­ral among scho­lar­ly sources about inde­pen- dent films. See Denis Bachand, “Le prisme iden­ti­taire du ciné­ma qué­bé­cois. Figures pater­nelles et inter­cul­tu­ra­li­té dans Mémoires affec­tives et Lit­to­ral,” Ciné­mas 19.1 (2008): 57–73.
  14. Pierre L’Hérault, “De Waj­di… à Wahab,” Jeu 111 (2004): 97.
  15. André Roy, “Mys­tère des ori­gines: Lit­to­ral de Waj­di Moua­wad,” Séquences 234 (2004): 38.
  16. This cas­ting move may have resul­ted from cer­tain prac­ti­ca­li­ties, but remai­ned pro­ble­ma­tic for film audiences; see Oli­via Cho­plin, “Sta­ging the Psyche: Repre­sen­ting the ‘Other Scene’ in the Thea­ter of Michel Trem­blay, Marie N’Diaye and Waj­di Moua­wad”, PhD dis­ser­ta­tion (Atlan­ta: Emo­ry Uni­ver­si­ty, 2009): 169–172.
  17. Gaya­tri Cha­kra­vor­ty Spi­vak, A Cri­tique of Post­co­lo­nial Rea­son: Towards a His­to­ry of the Vani­shing Present (Oxford: Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1999).
  18. Bene­dict Ander­son, Ima­gi­ned Com­mu­ni­ties: Reflec­tions on the Ori­gin and Spread of Natio­na­lism (Lon­don: Ver­so, 1991).
  19. See Haug­bolle, War and Memo­ry in Leba­non; Rabah, Conflict on Mount Leba­non; Saa­di Nikro, The Frag­men­ting Force of Memo­ry.
  20. Mathieu Séguin-Tétrault, “Les amours ima­gi­naires: Roméo Onze,” Séquences 278 (2012): 53.
  21. Sté­phane Defoy, “Fausse iden­ti­té: Roméo Onze de Ivan Grbo­vic,” Ciné-Bulles 30.2 (2013): 23.
  22. Pierre-Alexandre Fra­det, Phi­lo­so­pher à tra­vers le ciné­ma qué­bé­cois (Paris: Har­mann, 2018), 22–24.
  23. André Roy, “Entre deux mondes: Roméo Onze d’Ivan Grbo­vic,” 24 images 157 (2012): 47.
  24. His youn­ger sis­ter Sabine (San­da Bou­re­nane) lives her life like any other finis­sante, although she employs ruses to do so (for example, convin­cing her father that Rami cha­pe­rones her on outings and then dit­ching him). His older sis­ter Nada (Caline Habib) is a suc­cess­ful busi­ness- woman enga­ged to the hand­some Bas­sam (Ziad Ghanem).
  25. In an inter­view, Grbo­vic asserts that he spe­ci­fi­cal­ly sought to avoid the topics of war and rac- ism typi­cal of migrant films, yet also ascribes Rami’s “quête iden­ti­taire” in part, at least, to the denial of his Leba­nese iden­ti­ty. See Sté­phane Defoy, “Entre­tien: Ivan Grbo­vic,” Ciné-Bulles 30.2 (2012): 19.
  26. Roy, “Entre deux mondes.”
  27. This label, howe­ver, has also been contes­ted and at various moments in their his­to­ry Maro­nites have sought to dis­tin­guish them­selves from Arab iden­ti­ty, most nota­bly attemp­ting to esta­blish them­selves as the des­cen­dants of the Phoe­ni­cians. See Rabah, Conflict on Mount Leba­non, 53–54 and Tara­bul­si, A His­to­ry of Modern Leba­non, 93–94.
  28. Joce­lyn Létour­neau, “Mythis­toires de losers: Intro­duc­tion au roman his­to­rial des Qué­bé­cois,” His­toire sociale/Social His­to­ry (2006): 157–180.
  29. For a dis­cus­sion of Derrida’s hos­pi­ta­li­ty theo­ry in rela­tion to immi­gra­tion, see Ash­wi­ny Kist­na­red­dy, “Elsew­here Home: Hos­pi­ta­li­ty, Affect, and Lan­guage in Ying Chen’s Lettres Chi­noises and Kim Thúy’s Vi,” Qué­bec Stu­dies 71 (Spring/Summer 2021): 91–110.
  30. Tara­bul­si, A His­to­ry of Modern Leba­non, 224. See also the CBC docu­men­ta­ry Exile without End: Pales­ti­nians in Leba­non (2011).
  31. Marie’s sto­ry also belies the myth of the Quiet Revo­lu­tion as an ins­tan­ta­neous moment of modernization.
  32. See Samer Najari’s bio­gra­phy on the IFFR web­site, https://iffr.com/en/persons/samer-najari (consul­ted on 15 Janua­ry 2022).
  33. Arwad fre­quent­ly pays homage to Lit­to­ral; this sequence invokes a signi­fi­cant exchange bet­ween Wahab and Mas­si and parents dan­cing is an impor­tant motif in both films. Indeed, Arwad concludes—as had Lit­to­ral—with a magi­cal rea­list reu­nion bet­ween mother and son dan­cing together.
  34. Sara Ahmed, Queer Phe­no­me­no­lo­gy (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2006), 11.
  35. Gru­geau refers to the film’s crea­tion as an “entre-deux poreux, vacillant entre l’ici et l’ailleurs”. See Gérard Gru­geau, “Je rentre à la mai­son : Arwad de Samer Naja­ri et Domi­nique Chi­la,” 24 images 174 (2015): 47. Also see Marie-Hélène Mel­lo, “Frac­ture mul­tiple: Arwad,” Ciné-Bulles 32.1 (2014): 13.
  36. Mel­lo, “Frac­ture mul­tiple,” 12.
  37. See Amy J. Ran­som, “Men in Pain: Home, Nos­tal­gia, and Mas­cu­li­ni­ty in Twen­ty-First Cen­tu­ry Qué­bec Film,” in A Cine­ma of Pain: Essays on Quebec’s Nos­tal­gic Screen, Liz Czach and André Loi­selle, eds. (Water­loo: Wil­frid Lau­rier Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2019), 125–146.
  38. See note 27.
  39. See, for example, Kalí Tal, Worlds of Hurt: Rea­ding the Lite­ra­tures of Trau­ma (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1996) or Lau­rie Vickroy, Trau­ma and Sur­vi­val in Contem­po­ra­ry Fic­tion (Char­lot­tes­ville: Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­gi­nia Press, 2002).
  40. See Rabah, Conflict on Mount Leba­non; Tara­bul­si, A His­to­ry of Modern Leba­non. 29
  41. Rabah, Conflict on Mount Leba­non, 46.
  42. Simon, L’hybridité cultu­relle, 25.