You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Borders of Heaven’

An understated, expertly modulated debut about a young couple trying to deal with the death of their daughter.

Lotfi Abdelli, Anissa Daoud, Mouna Noureddine, Sophie Ghodhbane, Chekra Rammeh, Issa Harrath, Martine Gafsi, Abdelghani Ben Tara, Aymen Mabrouk, Hedi Ben Malek. (Arabic, French dialogue)

Official Site: https://www.facebook.com/lesfrontieresduciel/

A beautiful sense of restraint and a rare sensitivity to internalized grief infuse “Borders of Heaven” with a profound empathy that transcends nationality, making Fares Naanaa’s directing debut one of the few Tunisian titles capable of overcoming the arthouse blind spot for the region. Reminiscent of “The Son’s Room” in how it traces the quiet, devastating effect of the loss of a child on a young couple, “Borders” boasts a sterling script anchored by two likable and well-delineated protags played to perfection by lead thesps Lotfi Abdelli and Anissa Daoud. Box office at home has been exceptional, with moderate worldwide success attainable notwithstanding (or perhaps due to) its wrenching theme.

The setup quickly establishes relationships and social strata: Sara (Daoud) and Samy (Abdelli) are a loving, middle-class couple with a sweet 5-year-old daughter, Yasmine (Sophie Ghodhbane). Sara comes from a wealthy family and still retains traces of a privileged mentality, whereas Samy has less entitled origins, having been raised by a mother (Mouna Noureddine) who struggled as a single parent.

Samy is an architect, Sara a teacher; their lives are as harmonious as is reasonable for a thirtysomething couple. Then one day Yasmine is gone: Naanaa uses admirable understatement in the way he introduces the little girl’s death, for which Samy feels responsible. In an instant their lives are fractured, and rather than finding a modicum of solace in their mutual grief, Samy withdraws into himself, consumed with guilt. Now perpetually unshaven and numbing his sorrow in booze, Samy is unable to function, refusing any succor as he torments himself with Yasmine’s always-present aura.

Sara is equally devastated, yet while her husband won’t allow himself redemption, she looks for ways to cope with a loss that will never diminish. A women’s singing group helps her find distraction and a sense of temporary calm, but Samy’s self-imposed isolation threatens to tear the marriage apart, and she takes refuge with her parents (Martine Gafsi and Abdelghani Ben Tara).

Wisely, Naanaa keeps the narrative simple, focusing on character and the ways two good people attempt to deal with the unimaginable. By refusing to film Yasmine’s death or the immediate reactions, he steers clear of prurience or spectacle, instead delving into the far deeper aftermath of mourning, when life is meant to continue even though the road map to the future has been effaced. Ultimately, bridges will form, but thankfully the script respects its characters as well as the audience, offering quiet resolution with no guarantees.

Samy’s physical transformation from vigorous and well-shaven to tormented and unkempt is so striking that at first it’s as if the role has been given to two actors. Abdelli, known at home as both actor and comedian, delivers a penetrating, moving performance that justly earned him the best actor prize in Dubai; he’s beautifully matched by Daoud’s quieter despair. Sara’s grief threatens to be nullified by Samy’s more demonstrable depression: Her sense of loss is just as great, yet she realizes she needs to find a way to keep living, knowing it will be easier to face the permanently blighted path ahead if her husband is by her side.

Visuals favor closeups suitable to the private intensity of the story, allowing Sofian El Fan’s supple camerawork to capture the intimacy of everyday objects and tasks along with the closeness of families unsettled by thoughts of being alone. This lack of showiness, understated yet brimming with emotion, is the key to the pic’s success. Just as Sara finds a sense of spiritual calm through singing, so the music chosen allows audiences a quietly emotional aural conduit through the bittersweet melancholy they share with the characters.

Film Review: 'Borders of Heaven'

Reviewed at Dubai Film Festival (competing), Dec. 3, 2015. (Also in Carthage Film Festival — First Feature competition.) Running time: 86 MIN. (Original titles: "Chbabek el jenna" / "Les Frontieres du ciel")

Production: (Tunisia) A Cinetelefilms, Icflix production, with the support of the Tunisian Ministry of Culture, Dubai Film Market — Enjaaz, Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. Produced by Habib Attia.

Crew: Directed by Fares Naanaa. Screenplay, Naanaa, Nadia Khammari. Camera (color), Sofian El Fani; editors, Azza Chaabouni, Pascale Chavance; music, Kais Sellami; production designer, Kais Rostom; costume designer, Lilia Lakhoua; sound (5.1), Moncef Taleb, Aymen Laabidi, Giacomo Rende; assistant director, Mehdi M. Barsaoui.

With: Lotfi Abdelli, Anissa Daoud, Mouna Noureddine, Sophie Ghodhbane, Chekra Rammeh, Issa Harrath, Martine Gafsi, Abdelghani Ben Tara, Aymen Mabrouk, Hedi Ben Malek. (Arabic, French dialogue)

More Film

  • Playwright Mark Medoff author of "Children

    Mark Medoff, 'Children of a Lesser God' Playwright, Dies at 79

    Mark Medoff, the playwright who wrote Tony Award-winning play “Children of a Lesser God,” died Tuesday in Las Cruces, N.M. He was 79. His daughter Jessica Medoff Bunchman posted news of his death on Facebook, and the Las Cruces Sun-News attributed the cause to cancer. “Children of a Lesser God” starred John Rubinstein and Phyllis Frelich [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Interscope Films Relaunches With Full Slate at Tribeca (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Interscope record label’s interest in film/music crossover isn’t exactly a secret: With hit companion albums for “A Star Is Born,” “Black Panther” and “La La Land,” they’ve seemed to own the soundtrack space at times in recent years. And the company hasn’t completely made a secret of its desire to move into film production. [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame': Fans and Theaters Assemble for Biggest Marvel Movie Ever

    For San Diego resident Shawn Richter, “Avengers: Endgame” is more than the conclusion to a monumental period in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the West Coast branch chair of Avengers Initiative, a cosplay charity that raises money for causes like the Ronald McDonald House Children’s Charities, the comics of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are [...]

  • Jillian Bell appears in Brittany Runs

    Amazon's 'Brittany Runs a Marathon' Sets Summer Release

    “Brittany Runs a Marathon” will be rushing to theaters on Aug. 23. Amazon Studios dated the comedy on Wednesday. The pic, starring Jillian Bell (“Rough Night,” “22 Jump Street”), won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival. The flick follows the titutal Brittany, who decides to run around New York City in order to [...]

  • Lionsgate Hires Lynn Whitney in Marketing

    Lionsgate Hires Former Warner Bros. Exec Lynn Whitney

    Lionsgate announced Wednesday that Lynn Whitney will become head of worldwide paid media, partnerships, promotions and consumer products. Whitney was formerly the executive VP of worldwide media at Warner Bros.   In her new role, Whitney will build out media campaigns for movies like Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron’s romantic comedy “Long Shot.” “I am [...]

  • El silencio de otros

    Film Review: 'The Silence of Others'

    “Forgiven but not forgotten” is a platitude we routinely use to end disputes both petty and grievous, but it’s the reverse outcome — the mass forgetting of crimes and conflicts never truly resolved — that itches away at a post-Franco Spain in “The Silence of Others.” Soberly chronicling the ongoing legal battle of General Franco’s [...]

  • A Womans Work-The NFLs Cheerleader Problem

    Tribeca Documentaries Explore Gender Issues in Sport

    Up until recently, what it meant to be a professional female athlete in a world dominated by men wasn’t an issue that garnered high volumes of public interest, let alone national headlines. But that all changed in October 2017 when stories from the New York Times and the New Yorker detailing sexual allegations and improper [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content