What I loved about HEAVEN WITHOUT PEOPLE is the heated philosophical debate that arises out of a family struggling with a diversity of political beliefs. The captured audience watches to see if secrets kept between certain members will be revealed, if this family with unravel under the weight of the challenges of living in Lebanon (from black outs to bombings) and if the family issue of the day can ever be resolved.
The writer/director convincingly grapples with how each characters’ morals conflict with other family members. Like any good story, equal respect is given to all sides so we believe the authenticity of each character’s point of view. It demonstrates how anyone of us can convince ourselves we are right despite those shouting in our face that we are wrong. It’s an existential debate told with passion from all sides.
The natural performances of these characters made it feel like I was eavesdropping on someone’s family dinner. The dialogue rang true to what intellectual families would debate about and how they would interact. Even how they teased each other to show they care, created comic relief from the subject matter tackled. The natural placement of camera and hand held choices gave an intimate feel. The huge family dinner with longer, panning one-shots combined with reaction shots kept us oriented so the audience feels like we are also eating at this table. Clever inserts of food on the table added a richer experience, and I’ll admit made me hungry. All of this created a familiar family gathering filled with busyness, comfort, catching up, debating ideas that build to multiple heated climaxes. The ending surprised me, despite the character development that I can only recognize in hindsight.
HEAVEN WITHOUT PEOPLE is a conflicted love letter to both family and country. The story is as captivating as it is enlightening.
Written, Directed and Edited by Lucien Bourjelly