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Reel Asian 2023: Jude Chehab’s 'Q' Gifts Us Love

Jude Chehab

Lebanese-American filmmaker Jude Chehab’s feature documentary debut Q is more patient than it is driving. As it works to capture three generations of women’s relationship with a religious order shrouded in secrecy, it is more tender-hearted and observational than it is examinational, in effect working on a different plane than traditional documentaries.

Chehab invites us into her parents’ home in Lebanon at a moment when her mother Hiba is dealing with the consequences of leaving Al-Qubaysiat, an Islamic matriarchal religious order that Hiba and her own mother have been a part of for years. Chehab trails Hiba, capturing how her life is impacted by the ostracization Al-Qubaysiat’s leader inflicts upon her for leaving the group. We see Hiba unraveling as she is denied contact with the group’s leader, who, in the film’s duration, reaches her deathbed, and whom members of the order are taught to love dearly.

Q is more a tonal poem than it is a concerted effort to answer viewers’ questions about the intricacies and workings of Al-Qubaysiat. Chehab never interjects with overarching, expository narration to explain the order’s ways, its history, and how present-day women interact with it. Rather, we learn about the order’s ethos, its emotional core through Hiba and her mother, Chehab’s grandmother. The two women explain that Al-Qubaysiat functions on a kind of unconditional love group members have for the leader, who becomes a kind of second mother to the women. Hiba explains she loved the regimentation the order gave to her life, one devoted to learning about Islam, loving the religion and the leader passionately. We learn through Chehab’s father that Hiba’s life within Al-Qubaysiat, the order and the matriarch, was of utmost priority to her, and it is this precedence that leads Hiba to eventually leave the order.

Chehab’s gaze in this film is light, meaning that much of the film scans as a slice-of-life piece — Chehab allows us a glimpse into Hiba’s everyday as she grapples not only with life after and apart from Al-Qubaysiat, but also her attendant treatment by the matriarch. It’s harrowing, Chehab shows us, to have a person one loved endlessly and with one’s whole being rebuke one entirely; Hiba often weeps. Chehab allows Hiba, in these moments, to explain her feelings of rejection and loss, to talk through her grief of losing something that was so integral to her life, and it is through the voice Chehab gives to Hiba that we grasp a sense of what it feels like to be a member of Al-Qubaysiat. Chehab shows us through Hiba the cradling warmth of belief and a reciprocated love, and when the latter is lost, Hiba shows us that it can still be found in other aspects of one’s life.

At times, Chehab’s poetic, emotional, and gossamer-like handling of the topic, her focus on the emotional over the explanatory, does work a bit against the film, but only in the sense that those completely unfamiliar with Al-Qubaysiat leave the film with more questions than answers. But in another and more pertinent sense, the film offers us a glimpse of what it feels like to love with one’s whole being, and what it feels like to lose this all-consuming love.

Chehab’s film is raw and deeply sensual, evocating through its runtime, through its exposition of loving and losing, an act of love within viewers in a way that few documentaries are able to accomplish, and this is Q’s unique gift.


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