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Linda & Ali: Two Worlds within Four Walls

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Lut Vandekeybus
Directed by Lut Vandekeybus
DVD, color, 94 min.
College - Adult
Middle Eastern Studies, Multicultural Studies, Women's Studies, Anthropology

Reviewed by Carolyn Coates, Eastern Connecticut State University

Date Entered: 9/21/2007

Linda & Ali: Two Worlds within Four Walls is a documentary that follows the lives of Linda, an American, and Ali, a Qatari, and their seven children as they go about their daily lives in Qatar. The film maker allows the story of how they met (while Ali was studying in the United States) and married to unfold through interviews and conversation between family and friends. For the most part, the interviewer remains hidden behind the camera and the film refrains from establishing a precise context or overarching narrative for the film—which is both its strength and its weakness. On the one hand, their story is told in their own words; on the other, the viewer, especially one unfamiliar with Qatari society, would benefit from some contextualization of the family’s activities.

The question of marriage and its place in the larger society form the linchpin of the film. They seem devoted to each other and to their life together, but clearly, despite Linda’s conversion to Islam (which predated her marriage), they struggle with differences in their expectations, and Linda with her isolation from her family in the U.S. The questions of whom and how their children will marry—and the relation between marriage and one’s Qatari identity—also form points of contention. Linda is aghast that her own daughters take arranged marriages for granted.

Related to this is the sex-based segregation of Qatari society—men and women occupy completely different social spheres. When Ali socializes with friends, he leaves child care and other elements of family to Linda, while she prefers having him spend time with her and the family. In many ways these disagreements sound familiar and the issues seem not far removed from those of contemporary American couples, though in the U.S. they could socialize as a couple, something not possible in Qatar. We meet some of Linda’s friends in the film, but her social circle is more limited given the distance from her mother and extended family.

Keeping the filmmaker behind the camera and an omniscient narrator at bay allows the story of Linda and Ali to unfold in their own words, but it also leaves some questions unanswered and parts of the narrative unspoken. For example, we know little of their relationships with Ali’s extended family, or with Linda’s, other than her frequent chats with her mother—do they accept this intercultural marriage? What influences do they have on their ongoing lives? Though they spent the first five years of their marriage in the U.S., we hear little from them on the decision process that lead to their current life together.

This film provides useful insights into living in one Middle Eastern society and culture. It will be useful, as well, for collections or classes exploring the structures of marriage and family life for its exploration of the processes support and negotiation in a long-term relationship. As the film focuses rather narrowly on the family, the experience of the film would be strengthened by taking the time to learn about Qatari or related Middle Eastern cultures from other sources. Technically, the film is quite well produced.