– In her debut feature film filled with ellipses and silences, Binevsa Berivan paints the portrait of a Yezidi woman spurred on by her thirst for vengeance

Review: The Virgin and Child

Hêvîn Tekîn in The Virgin and Child

Tuesday saw the Brussels-based director of Kurdish origin Binevsa Berivan – who notably turned heads with her documentary Traces – le peuple du Paon and her short film Phone Story – present her debut feature film The Virgin and Child at the Ostend Film Festival.

It all begins with a prayer to the Peacock Angel, one of the central figures in the Yezidi religion. We realise that the heroine before our eyes can only be saved by turning to the sacred. We’re in the back of a smuggler’s van. We see a young woman. Her stomach. Then the desperate look. She’s looking at herself in a mirror, in a public toilet. We wonder what’s going on in her head. She enters a shop with a knife in her hand then we see her running back out. This elliptic opening sets the tone for Avesta’s quest, her vengeful path. What comes next will slowly shed light on her motivations.

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Our protagonist finds refuge in a shelter for asylum seekers. In the first instance, it’s her body which bears the marks of the abuse she has suffered, the most visible trace being her prominent stomach, the sign of an imminent birth. Hers is a tight-lipped and intriguing character. Haunted by the traumas of her recent past, which float to the surface at nighttime, she struggles to connect with others, to accept the human warmth offered by those she encounters. There are many women around her: her roommate, her counsellor, the nurse… A wonderful sorority takes form, gesture after gesture: the touch of a hand, coffee taken together, and words which are heard. The birth of Avesta’s child helps her find her tongue and, with it, her demons. A fascinating dilemma emerges: how do you love the child of a rapist and torturer, a Belgian jihadist whose family she’s now watching? Through a handful of modest and fleeting scenes hinting at this forced maternity, a complex bond between the mother child becomes clear, characterised by resistance and attraction, counter currents which whirl around in Avesta’s fragile mind.

Not least because she’s also having to contend with the Belgian justice system for the knife attack which marked her arrival in the country. While she herself is being judged, she rebels and asks the community: who’s going to deliver justice for her mother, her sister and her child who were all killed by Daesh?

The end of the film holds forth, but, generally speaking, the filmmaker takes a wonderfully subtle approach to unveiling her heroine’s journey, embracing her silences, lingering on every look, and crafting a brilliant intaglio depiction of the support she can hope to enjoy along the way. She shines a light on these women’s predicaments in all their complexity, women who became mothers amidst violence and hate, and examines the possibility of reconciling these feelings with the child in question. Hêvîn Tekîn – an actress of Kurdish origin born in Berlin – lends Avesta with her glowering look, playing her with few words but endless intensity. Opposite her, Laëtitia Eïdo plays the convincingly accurate part of a social worker who is similarly distressed by the persecution which has bloodied her family’s painful history.

The Virgin and Child is produced by Playtime Films (Belgium) in co-production with Polar Bear (Belgium).

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(Translated from French)

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