Looking beyond the surface

Derrière Les Fronts by Alexandra Dols, reviewed by Dr Alan Kessedjian.

Dr Samah Jabr – Chair of the Mental Health Unit at the Palestinian Ministry of Health, associate clinical professor at George Washington University, and fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Science and Policy – is both the guide and subject of Dol’s exploration of Palestinian narratives of resistance and resilience.

As Dr Jabr navigates the physical landscape of the West Bank, driving to and from her clinics, she provides Dols and the audience with insights into the psychological impacts of lived experiences in and of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Drawing on her observations from clinical practice, Dr Jabr contextualises individual disturbances within a broader reality of intergenerational collective trauma. Methods of torture associated with incarceration alongside the more insidious apparatus of social control are explored. The series of events Palestinians now call the ‘naqba’, its expression or internalisation, is understood as an ongoing process.

Through further interviews, Dols explores the quality of sumud (steadfastness) with a rich spectrum of differing yet ultimately unified Palestinian voices. Sumud is emblematised by the olive trees, chthonic and fertile, and the act of their cultivation. Sumud is witnessed in personal, collective and political consciousnesses. It is embodied, for example, by Ghadir Al Shafie, an activist connected with Aswat Palestinian Feminist Centre for Gender and Sexual Freedoms, who powerfully articulates the intersectionality of her experiences as a queer Palestinian woman. It is embodied by Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna, who speaks of his sense of Christian duty to defy oppression. It is embodied by academic Rula Abu Diho, who has guarded her humour and therefore humanity despite long years of incarceration.

Dols’ craft as a filmmaker and interviewer is in her seeming unobtrusiveness. She creates space for a range of Palestinian voices to define their own lived experiences on their own terms and reinforces their words through artful choices of imagery. Intransigence and gridlock are expressed visually through the repeated motifs of being stuck in traffic and queuing at checkpoints. Resistance and liberation are represented through movement: young Palestinian men showcase parkour under the awkward gaze of patrolling guards and the cinematographically arresting final moments of the film capture a glimpse of uncontrived and unbridled freedom as a horse gallops over open terrain.

As mental health professionals we have much to learn from our global colleagues. Derrière Les Fronts makes compelling viewing for anyone interested in Palestinian experiences of mental health, post-colonial thinking applied to clinical practice, that which Jabr describes as the ‘colonisation of the mind’ and the psychology of sustained collective trauma.

- Reviewed by Dr Alan Kessedjian, Consultant Clinical Psychologist OHFT and Co-Chair of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology EDI & Anti-Racism task and finish group

Now available as VOD in English, Arabic and Spanish

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