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Blind Faith

Hiba Khodr

Q (2023)

It’s a sad truth that a great many Americans have had to witness their parents become swallowed by an organization called Q which tells them what to think and how to think it, but not quite like this. This documentary is about Lebanese-American director Jude Chehab’s mother, Hiba Khodr, who has devoted her entire adult life to a secretive all-female religious order in Lebanon, Q for short, run by a leader referred to as the Anisa. Ms. Chehab’s generally normal middle-class life has been in the shadow of her mother’s relationship with the sect, which has been the dominate relationship of Ms. Khodr’s life, as Ms. Chehab’s father, Ziad Chehab, knows only too well. This is a riveting attempt to explain why Ms. Khodr chose to hand over her life to this order, and to attempt to unpick the consequences of this choice.

This is very tricky, because the order is controlling enough that there’s much anxiety from Ms. Chehab’s relatives about her choice to make the film. Everyone on camera is supportive of Ms. Chehab’s work and willing to be interviewed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready or able to articulate all their feelings. Luckily Ms. Chehab’s grandmother, Doria Mouneimne, sets the tone through her frankness about how appealing the group was to her back when she first joined. This extended to being proud and excited when the Anisa asked Ms. Khodr to drop out of medical school in order to preach within the sect. But it’s apparent the reason Ms. Khodr has agreed to participate in this film is that she’s hoping it will provide answers she has been unable to provide for herself. The language used to describe what Q offered its members is akin to people overwhelmed with a new relationship – the terms of love are that strong and that all-encompassing. Ms. Khodr reads out her old diaries for Ms. Chehab and can’t always figure out who she is discussing in such strong terms, and it’s Ms. Chehab who must keep pointing out that it’s obviously the Anisa.

The Anisa. Her name is never given; and she’s never shown on screen; but it’s obvious she has exacted a high amount of control over the lives of her followers for decades. And even those who are no longer in the order cannot bring themselves to speak badly about this. It is literally astonishing to hear people use this kind of language about someone who isn’t a partner. But the Anisa’s gift was making her followers feel seen, appreciated and loved; and for that they would have followed her anywhere. It feels like a cult, this strength of feeling, although the word is never used. Ms. Chehab centers her mother’s and grandmother’s choices firmly within the context of their family lives – home movies and old photos help here – but wisely chooses not to contextualize too deeply within Lebanese or American history. It’s not that it goes without saying, but any attempt to shift this deeply personal family story into a bigger picture would have foundered on complicated intersectional rocks almost immediately. Better to accept Ms. Khodr and her choices on her own terms, and to try to understand them as a friend might, or as an audience member of the Tribeca Festival.

However, the ways of the human heart remain a mystery sometimes even to its owner, and other times the truth is too painful to be said aloud. Ms. Chehab comes as close as is humanly possible to finding the answers, before the final plot twist removes all hope of closure. Ms. Khodr’s tears and Mr. Chehab’s frustrated silence culminate in the extraordinary shot of the two of them on a sofa in awful silence, pain and distance palpably hanging between them before they shake it off. And sometimes, when looking back at a life that hasn’t quite worked out the way you wanted, isn’t that all you can do? This documentary is a gift, both from a child to a parent and from a director to an audience hoping to understand some nonunderstandable choices. Love does not conquer all, but it does alter all; and trying to understand that alteration is another act of love. And because this is an act of love, this movie utterly works.

A correction was made on July 5, 2023: An earlier version of the review misspelled Ms. Chehab's name.


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