The setting for this family drama is the home of a Lebanese Christian family who for the first time have managed to get their entire clan together for an Easter lunch. The matriarch Josephine (Samira Sarkis) is nominally in charge, but very soon as the lively conversation gets going with several family members talking over each other, it’s pretty clear that this very opinionated and articulate group all think that they are the most important people around this food-laden table.
There is friction between the two sisters Christine (Nancy Karam) and Rita (Farah Chaer) whose opposing views on life have developed since their marriages to two very different men. Their father Antoine (Wissam Boutros), whose political views favor the status quo in Lebanon even though living there is very tough and unsafe, have been shaped by the fact that he still gets hefty back-handers by the corrupt local Authorities. It is an issue that doesn’t sit well, especially with Rita his more outspoken daughter who so desperately wants to leave Beirut and emigrate to Canada.
The late arrivals to the lunch are Gaby (Hussein Hijazi) the sibling’s brother and his new much younger Moslem girlfriend Leila (Laeticia Semaan)who is desperate to use the always-occupied toilet to try out her pregnancy test kit.
Then Josephine needing to pay the gasoline delivery man (the generator being the most important piece of equipment in the house due to the constant power outages), discovers money missing from her purse. It is some $12000 that Antoine had received for ‘supplies’ from the Municipalities just the day before. As her husband has a weak heart she wants to keep the discovery from him she shares the news with her son Gaby instead.
Once they think of a ruse to get Antoine out of the house, they alert the rest of the family, as well as the live-in maid, of the theft that has occurred during the course of the lunch. Immediately all modicum of trust disappears and the thin veneer of respect for each other is now swept aside in some very heated accusations. Literally, everyone is about to explode with rage.
This fast-paced drama is the feature film debut of writer/director Lucien Bourjeily who uses his experience as a theater director to set this up like a stage play. The rapid-fire dialogue constantly overlaps giving the script a real sense of spontaneity and improvisation from his cast, which is especially impressive as several of them have never acted before.
Asides from accusing the father of collusion with the authorities, none of the family really address the precarious state of Lebanese politics head on, but as the elephant in the room, it certainly has shaped all of their lives in ways they would have never chosen freely.
Heaven Without People is a tense, compelling and thoroughly entertaining piece that is a very considered observation of the fragility of a family that only stick together simply because they believe that blood is indeed thicker than water.