Unpretentious, the documentary short film “In Memoriam” has only one character: the Syrian Jorge Samman. Behind the wheel of his car and leaning over a coffee table, between puffs of cigarettes, he talks for ten minutes about his family. Then the credits go up.
Despite the unpretentiousness –or precisely because of it– “In Memoriam” is one of the highlights of this edition of the Arab World Film Festival. The short documents Brazilian filmmaker Otavio Cury’s search for his family roots in Syria. Thus, the film ends up touching on fundamental themes of the Arab community in Brazil, whose story, by the way, I tell in my recently released book “Brimos”.
In 2001, Cury went to the Syrian city of Homs looking for more information about his family. His great-grandfather, Daud Constantino al-Khoury, had been one of Syria’s leading playwrights. The filmmaker transformed that experience into the documentary “Constantino”, from 2012. Narrated in first person, the film has a very authorial, visceral character, accompanying Cury’s self-discovery.
It was in 2001 that Cury met Jorge, his father’s second cousin. In 2009, on a second trip, the Brazilian filmmaker recorded his conversation with his relative using a portable camera. Jorge, however, fell ill before the official recordings of “Constantino” in late 2009. Therefore, he unfortunately does not appear in the 2012 documentary.
This new film, “In Memoriam”, rescues those first images. It also rescues Jorge’s character. The apparent simplicity of his speech hides layers and layers of family history, an important record of the experience of Syrian migrants in Brazil. Jorge narrates the life and death of his relatives. He also flirts with the fantastic and the poetic, Cury tells this Orientalíssimo blog. For example, in the story of the man who dies hugging a horse. It is an interesting oral history document for anyone interested in the field.
In the short ten minutes of conversation, Jorge mentions the institutions founded by Syrians in Brazil – such as Clube Homs – and ex-governor Paulo Maluf, of Lebanese origin. He speaks in Spanish because, despite being born in Syria, he has lived in Argentina like so many other migrants.
The short “In Memoriam” runs until September 16 at the Arab World Film Festival. Like other films, the screening is free. There is more information about the event in a previous post here on the blog. Director Cury also participates in a chat on this 1st at 5 pm with filmmaker Wissam Tanios, the dean of Unifesp and creator of the show Soraya Smaili, and historian Murilo Meihy.