Mother Valley

A well-made and captivating drama - 7/10

by Jad Sammour

Watched on February 21, 2024

Mother Valley is a really good film. I had a great time watching it. It’s an immersive film with a timely subject and great atmosphere.

From the opening shot at blue hour of the fog-drenched valley, I felt I was going to be in for a good film. Director Carlos Chahine and cinematographer Thomas Bataille did a great job photographing the landscape and using it to enhance the film’s mood. The landscape is not only an aesthetic surplus – although it is aesthetically pleasing – it feels like a thematic burden to the female characters, more than the blessing that it may seem to outsiders or to the men of the village, or perhaps a hole that everyone is trapped within… or really, the valley has a V shape, a womb, hence the English-language title Mother Valley. I wouldn’t call the film feminist but it does tackle themes related to women’s issues (education, the patriarchy, conservative societies, women as currency, etc…), and the film does even slip in an LGBTQ+ moment which felt weirdly shoved in although justifiable and serviceable within the narrative. What did stick out to me, was the politics (Lebanese history and the events of 1958) which honestly I did not quite like, because even though they contextualize the film and add a layer of tension, they come off as patronizing because you can’t have a Lebanese movie without mentioning the divide between Christians and Muslims and Druze, which to be honest has become our entire national identity (for some reason… wink). In its 86-minute runtime Carlos Chahine manages to juggle many themes and stories, really developing the central story, but unfortunately leaving the rest undercooked and slightly confusing.

Layla, portrayed beautifully by Marilyne Naaman, is the focal point of the film, and her chemistry with her co-stars makes her screen presence even more pleasing. The film switches perspectives between Layla and her 7-year-old son, Charles (the young actor is good in the role). The on-screen dynamic between Layla and her son is really good, and their arc together in the film is too. The film needed to further develop the relationship between the three sisters. Marilyne Naaman, Joy Hallak, and Ruby Ramadan were good on-screen together and the narrative should’ve focused more on their relationship. The remaining performances were all good and I don’t remember any of them bothering me or seeming forced, though not all of them were of the same caliber.

Mother Valley is a visually beautiful film. The cinematography is solid, and the production design well-serviced the look of the film and the atmosphere. Layla’s father’s house comes off more as a claustrophobic bourgeois prison rather than a comforting estate. Once more, the village’s exterior shots, especially the photography of the valley were really good. Camera movement and shot composition could’ve handled more style because they were a bit too formulaic, though good enough. The story as a whole is a bit familiar but the whole experience still ends up being fresh and captivating. The editing is sharp and well-utilized. The film is steadily paced throughout and no scene feels dragged out or too short – a certain character’s affair feels sometimes rushed and not developed but I think this was a conscious choice because the affair’s nature is more of a vehicle in the character’s development and not a focal point. For 86 minutes, it does feel longer but this did not bother me, I enjoyed the slow pace and made the watching experience pleasant.

Overall, Mother Valley is a well-made drama that will leave viewers satisfied.

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