Michka Saäl

The Sleeping Tree Dreams of Its Roots

1992, documentary, 80 minutes, French with English subtitles

Credits        Reviews        Screenings Backstory

 

Synopsis

The unlikely friendship between two immigrant women in Montreal. One is Lebanese, who has fled the war, the other is Jewish. Surrounding them, stories of exile and moments of sharing.

 

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Credits

Written and directed by Michka Saäl

 

Research: Nadine Ltaif and Michka Saäl

Image: Nathalie Moliavko-Visotsky

Sound recording: Claude Hamel

Sound design: Francine Poirier

Editor: Fernand Bélanger

Original music: Jean Derome

Production: National Film Board of Canada

 

With Nadine Ltaif and Michka Saäl

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Reviews

 

Intimate and philosophical 

“Traditional documentary settings and improvised dialogue, Brechtian direction and scripted scenes, ‘talking heads’, one-on-one interviews and intimate exchanges, voice on and off screen, images from the everyday, archival footage and flashes of poetry… together it forms a rich tapestry.

“Michka Saäl undertakes a social inquiry that is neither scientific nor didactic, but which gives a voice to other immigrants who are living largely in harmony despite their diverging cultures. The reflections of the director, both intimate and philosophical, are remarkable for their intelligence and finesse.

"Given the often anemic state of the National Film Board, how refreshing to see a film flourish that is as beautiful and exciting as The Sleeping Tree Dreams of its Roots. This film is not the product of the old guard (is that surprising?), but of a young filmmaker, a New Canadian, who in a seemingly effortless way, has just renewed our national cinema by directing the best docu-drama to come out of the NFB in a long time. Michka Saäl is a name to remember...”

Johanne Larue, Séquences, No 158.

 

Strong, intelligent and moving

 “…a work with such warmth that it unfolds like a story from A Thousand and One Nights ‘made in Quebec’. It does one good to feel the desert breezes and scents from the Middle East caress our national cinema and introduce a new voice into our documentary tradition.

“The essence of the film emerges from the unspoken and unexplained; what passes between the lines and between the scenes, in the face of Nadine Ltaif which brightens the film with her presence and the art of Michka Saäl (and her director of photography, Nathalie Moliavko-Visotsky) to choose the right angle. All this makes The Sleeping Tree… a strong, intelligent and moving film.”

Marie-Claude Loiselle, 24 Images, No. 60.

Photo: Alain Chagnon

Photo: Alain Chagnon

A gentle touch

“With its gentle touch, the film will not change anyone’s mind, but at least it sheds a different light on interethnic relations that are usually viewed through the lens of conflict and with a patent ethnocentrism.”

Louise Blanchard, Le Journal de Montréal, March 25, 1992

 

Hopeful 

“Ultimately the film is hopeful. After all, it is here that Saäl has finally decided to set down her roots and has received favourable recognition for her work. This is conveyed by the beautiful cinematography, the living shots of the outdoors and the capturing of simple, but joyful, human experience.”

Janice Arnold, The Canadian Jewish News, April 2, 1992

A necessary paradox

“The film revolves around a special friendship between two women, Nadine, a poet of Arab origin who fled the war in Lebanon, and Michka herself, a Jewish woman from Tunisia. Our two adventurers, installed in Quebec for already more than a decade, keep alive the richness of their past in the Middle East and North Africa. A necessary paradox to their survival, this return towards their roots can’t fail to recall that disagreements between Jews and Arabs have influenced their childhoods. Still, the friendship between the two women transcends the racial resentments brought on by religion and politics.”

Alain Côté, Images, April 1992

Photo: Alain Chagnon

Photo: Alain Chagnon

Likely to make you dream

“Michka and Nadine reveal their most profound feelings to each other and before the camera. Their looks, hesitations, even their silences speak volumes, and their words about their disarray even more so. But rest assured The Sleeping Tree Dreams of its Roots is not dry or sad. Bursting with rhythms from unfamiliar cultures, this film is more likely to make you dream.”

Huguette Roberge, La Presse, March 22, 1992

A superb mosaic on the feelings of immigrants 

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The Sleeping Tree Dreams of its Roots is neither fiction nor documentary. It is an essay which, while examining immigration, explores the friendship between two women. The viewer is by turns intrigued, seduced and moved, but also a little irritated. Because the third film of Michka Saäl, like her first Far from Where?, adopts a tone so personal that it almost becomes too much to bear witness to such intimacy. With unreserved generosity, Michka Saäl moves into this slippery terrain with the risk that narcissism can undo this type of film-confession. Ultimately, she succeeds in drawing a superb mosaic on the feelings of immigrants.

Bernard Boulad, Voir, March 26-April 1, 1992

 

A gamble both daring and perfectly realized

 “The director plays herself in the film: a gamble that is both daring and perfectly realized: it guarantees a deeper sincerity, while maintaining the film’s shape. Whether in front or behind the camera, Michka Saäl succeeds in sharing her difficult transplant into Quebecois soil.”

Cinébulles, Vol 11, No. 4

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Screenings

2018

DOC Cévennes, France

1992

Festival International du Film de Tunis

Festival de Jérusalem,

Rendez‐vous du Cinéma Québécois

Télé Québec

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Backstory

Clockwise from top: Nathalie Moliavko-Visotsky, Anne-Claire Poirier, Nadine Ltaif, Michka Saäl. Photo: Alain Chagnon

Clockwise from top: Nathalie Moliavko-Visotsky, Anne-Claire Poirier, Nadine Ltaif, Michka Saäl. Photo: Alain Chagnon

The need for rage 

“I asked for help (from Anne Claire Poirier) because with all the work as director, I needed someone to take care of me because I was a little empty. Anne-Claire helped me find myself, and ensure I wasn’t too stiff. For one scene in particular, she provoked me to put me in a state of rage.”

Interview with Denis Désjardins in 1995, published in Séquences 310, September-October 2017.

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If you dive in, so will I

To convince myself to be in the film, I laid down this condition: “Michka, I will play myself if you play yourself as well. If you dive in, so will I. “ In the end, I brought my entire family and friends to play themselves. My mother, and her friend. You can see them dancing and clapping their hands; and there are friends from my literature course in university, including Hélène who sings at a certain point in the film My brother is in the film, and my new Quebecois boyfriend leaves me voicemail. Michka told me to take care of my part by researching as if I were writing a diary, and she would take care of hers.

Nadine Ltaif, poet, actress, 2018