"Exile Family Movie": Ties that Bind By Lars Tuncay

in 49th Leipzig International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film

by Lars Tuncay

It’s politics that drives us apart. This is the starting point for Arash T. Riahi’s personal and yet universal documentary Exile Family Movie. His family is torn between the western and the eastern world. Together with his mother, his father and the little sister Riahi fled from Iran to Australia twenty years ago always thinking of the loved ones they had left behind. The ways to contact them are limited: phone calls, video chats, a trip to an uncle and his family, who fled to America and the visit of an aunt, who immigrated to Sweden with her son and daughter after her husband was murdered.

Now, after all those years, the family members take the chance to meet in Saudi Arabia. But the trip is risky, too risky for the father, who was almost executed before he left. He stays at home while the others fly to Mecca facing extreme pressure. First, they have to tell the authorities they are on a pilgrimage to the East. The women hide under their scarves, and therefore the young rebel daughter doesn’t feel comfortable. They also hide their camera because filming in public is forbidden. They do everything to avoid being noticed, and in the end, all the precautions were useful.

Finally, they meet in a small hotel apartment after twenty years of separation. Tears of joy are running over their chests, laughter is arising; enthusiastic shouts are filling the room. East and West, old and young, meet in one room. The spectators can feel in this documentary the happiness, the closeness, the joy and the feeling of being reunited as a family. After so many years with disappointed dreams of a change in Iran, now it is time to look in the future and stop mourning the past.

Arash doesn’t end here. In the epilogue he shows that the meeting was just a start to bring the family closer together. Another relative moved to the West to start a new life in Canada. The grandparents got a green card, so they can visit their children and grandchildren anytime they like. But before they are able to do this, the friendly looking grandfather dies. Once more the exiled members of the family only can share their grief over the telephone. An Islamic singer comes by to put their pain into a song. The downside ending is uplifted by a little girl who explains the way a family functions in a sweet children’s rhyme.

For 94 minutes, we feel close to Arash and his family. He moves us, he gives us something to think about and he makes us laugh about pointless discussions on soap operas. We get a glimpse of the meaning of the word family in other parts of the world and become aware of the longing for the closeness that we, the people of the West, already buried deep inside. In times when Iran and the Middle East are part of everyday’s news, Exile Family Movie is a brave statement of humanity over politics, a moving and very entertaining film about family values.