LOS ANGELES, Oct 5, (RTRS): “Go Home,” reads the angry grease-paint message scrawled on the wall of the now-ransacked villa Nada (Golshifteh Farahani) finds upon her return to the Lebanese village where she grew up. Alas, Nada can’t really go home, not now, not ever, in Jihane Chouaib’s slow and overly obvious account of this now-Westernized young woman’s attempts to put certain family secrets to rest. As three distractingly gorgeous actors mope about its otherwise-grubby Lebanon locations, this trilingual yet not especially talky debut (whose cast speaks French, English and Arabic) seeks profundity in introspective silences. For some it may well achieve that, though technically speaking, it’s a shame everything hinges on a childhood memory that, once fully revealed, isn’t nearly as shocking for us as it must be for Nada, ultimately eliciting respect but not much excitement as it travels fest and arthouse venues far from home.
The genuine cause for interest here arrives not onscreen but behind it, as another female filmmaker finds her voice in a Middle Eastern enclave — where, sadly, it still remains easier for women directors to find work than Hollywood. In this case, it is the Beirut-born Chouaib who returns to her native soil, clearly grappling with some version of the sense of disconnect that Nada feels onscreen. Perhaps she considered a more autobiographical approach too banal, which would account for why she opted to invent a family intrigue — the unsolved disappearance and presumed murder of Nada’s grandfather, Suleyman — which connects the scars that still linger today with the Lebanese civil war that forced both the helmer and her fictive protagonist to flee the country as children.
Presented as a mystery, albeit one in which Nada’s investigation amounts to little more than conjecture plus false assumptions about a misleading flashback, the situation with the missing old man advances in extreme slow motion. As a French-speaking young woman who insists on dredging up memories of civil war, Nada manages to ruffle feathers by asking Suleyman’s old friends and possible rivals (including a potentially dangerous militia leader) what may have happened to him.
Her suspicions are based mostly on a murky recurring memory that took place in the villa’s garden when she was a child, replayed in slightly greater detail each time we see it — the assumption being that she witnessed and subsequently suppressed whatever happened to him. Indeed, the scene, once it finally plays out, reveals several serious crimes, the most unforgivable being that it’s boring.
Nada is operating here on two likely false assumptions, and it’s no fun waiting for her to realize what Chouaib takes far too long to reveal: First, that Suleyman probably wasn’t murdered at all, and second, that he might not have been the civil-war heroic martyr that she imagines. Like the uneasy townsfolk, we might prefer for her to leave the past buried, since the present offers more narrative potential, and certainly Chouaib intends to shift the focus to connections Nada could be making in Lebanon now — including the handsome Lebanese clerk who hits on her (this local lothario wears a distracting amount of makeup, presumably intended to be invisible in Tommaso Fiorilli’s drab cinematography) or the young punk (Francois Nour) who throws firecrackers into the home’s disorderly courtyard, where she comes to believe the body must be interred.
Those who have seen Farahani act in other films know how unpredictably alive a character can become in her hands (Louis Garrel’s “The Two Friends” serves as one especially luminous example), but “Go Home” denies her this opportunity, preferring the soulful Iranian beauty to stew sullenly in the dreary remains of the life she left behind. Luckily, her equally attractive brother, Sam (Maximilien Seweryn), shows up a few days later, a windswept rapscallion who looks like a model for a “Men of the Peace Corps” calendar. What Nada has lacked in energy returns in his presence as the two siblings tease one another as they must have done as adolescents — a dynamic that substitutes for any concrete memories of that time.
Civil war may have scattered the family to the four winds — Nada to Paris, Sam to Dakar, where he has kept busy digging wells — but it can’t sever the bonds between them. Even when they disagree, they remain connected: She wants to clean the home, and he wants to sell it, but there’s not much point in doing either until they locate granddad’s body. And so the search begins in earnest, taking they on a dusty pilgrimage to another corner of Lebanon where the truth will finally, if rather anticlimactically be revealed, signaling to audiences that it’s time for them to do what Nada can’t: Go home.