Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Annemarie Jacir
Stars: Mohammad Bakri, Saleh Bakri, Maria Zreik.
Wajib translates as “duty”. But duty has different meanings for different people – there is duty to one’s family. To parents, to your country.
This gentle and low key but insightful drama is the third feature film for Palestinian born filmmaker Annemarie Jacir (When I Saw You, etc), and this multi-award winning film was Palestine’s official entry into the Best Foreign Language Film for the 2018 Oscars.
The film is set in Nazareth, an Israeli town which features a large population of Arabs, both Christian and Muslim, and even some Palestinian migrants.
Abu (Played by veteran actor Mohammad Bakri, from American Assassin, etc) is a 60something schoolteacher who has had to compromise a lot in order to live in Nazareth, and this obviously grates. His son Shadi (played by Saleh Bakri, from When I Saw You, etc) is an architect student who lives abroad in Italy with his girlfriend Nada. Abu disapproves of Nada and her radical politics and ties to a former PLO leader, and he also thinks that Shadi has been changed, not necessarily for the better, by his experiences of living in Italy. He now sports a man bun and wears flashy, trendy clothes. A running joke throughout the film has various people comment that they thought Shadi was living in America.
With the imminent wedding of his sister, Shadi has briefly returned home for a brief visit. Abu and Shadi spend a day driving around Nazareth in Abu’s battered old Volvo, hand delivering wedding invitations to various relatives. It is Abu’s duty to ensure that the invitations are hand delivered to every guest. There are already some tensions between father and son, and the time they spend together exposes some deeper differences and resentments. They have differing views on life as a Palestinian living abroad in a foreign country. Abu is conservative in his outlook, while Shadi has a more liberal outlook.
Abu’s wife left the family years earlier and went to live in America with another man and a new family, which left a raw feeling in his life which he has never quite recovered from. There are doubts if she will even return to Nazareth for her daughter’s wedding.
As they travel from location not location within the city we get to see the many differences between the neighbourhoods – garbage lies uncollected on the streets, some houses use tarpaulins to hide their shabby exteriors – and we gain a deeper understanding of the divisions within the city between classes, traditions, religions and cultures. There is something of an episodic feel to some of the material as we meet a variety of Arab households and gain some insights into the diversity of their experiences.
Wajib serves up a rich tapestry of life within the city during this one day. The film has been shot by cinematographer Antoine Heberle (the short film Journey To The West, etc), who uses hand held cameras to bring a sense of intimacy to the material. He also gives us a rich sense of place.
Wajib is a poignant and insightful and accessible comedy/drama that explores universal emotions and themes of identity, culture, tradition, politics, pursuing your own dreams, and it also explores the complex political realities of the Middle East in subtle fashion. The film has been loosely inspired by the experiences of Jacir’s own husband. The plight of Palestinians living abroad and facing persecution and resentment was also one of the key themes explored in the powerful Lebanese drama The Insult. However, Jacir has a light touch and her handling of the material is warm, sensitive and full of compassion and insight. She avoids melodrama or big moments of drama.
This is a dialogue driven film, but the dialogue is believable and natural and at times even feels unscripted. And the fact that Abu and Shadi are played by a real-life father and son adds to the dynamics of their relationship. There are also many moments of awkward silence between the pair that effectively convey much about the complex nature of their relationship. Saleh Bakridy has worked with Jacri on her previous feature film projects, and so they also have a great understanding that helps shape his character.