LFF 2017: Wajib Review
More on BFI London Film Festival 2017
Annemarie Jacir's Wajib at first appears to follow in the footsteps of the recently released In Between, made by fellow female Palestinian director Maysaloun Hamoud. A son has returned home to Palestine to help his father prepare for the marriage of his sister Amal (Maria Zreik). Together they travel from home to home, delivering the marriage invites by hand, performing their wajib (duty), as is the expected custom. The son, Shadi (Saleh Bakri), has long since made a life for himself as an architect in Italy (although everyone seems to believe he lives in America), living a far more liberal lifestyle than would have been possible back home in Nazareth. His teacher father, Abu Shadi (Mohammad Bakri), is a proud, traditional man who deep down does not understand some of the choices made by his son.
This laid back opening quickly establishes a fluid and natural relationship between the pair. No doubt helped by the fact that they are also father and son in real life. Their affection for each other is as clear as the frustration that continues to simmer underneath the surface. Bickering occurs throughout the day but the biggest source of tension arrives from a woman we never get to meet. Abu Shadi’s wife left behind Palestine and her family many years ago, marrying a man in America. Whether or not she will be able to travel home for her daughter’s wedding depends on the fragile health of her husband. That uncertainty re-opens the impact her departure had on the family that clearly has never been openly addressed.
The friction within the family is used by Jacir to look at the frustrations felt by Palestinians living in Jerusalem and the ongoing presence of the Israeli army. Abu Shadi wants to invite an Israeli friend that his son views as an infiltrator only interested in spying on and working against Palestinians. This only magnifies that the divide between father is son is a lot deeper than the bickering they frequently fall into. Shadi’s liberal lifestyle allows him to pursue the path he wants, unable to appreciate the sacrifices made by his father within the political landscape. While Abu Shadi’s traditional values trap him under the pressure of keeping up appearances, creating a version of his life that he believes others want to hear.
There can’t be any doubt how difficult a job Mohammad and Saleh Bakri faced by taking on these roles. While on the one hand their connection was naturally instantaneous, exposing their emotions to each other must have continually crossed over into their real life dynamic. There’s a vulnerability that men hide from each other - that can feel particularly ripe between father and son - each constantly attempting to prove themselves to the other. How much is acting and how much of their own issues were channelled through their characters remains open to question.
While the political themes are constantly in the background, Jacir wants the focus to remain on their relationship, without pointing out the obvious social complications. The director is also responsible for a script that creates complex characters speaking dialogue that feels tangibly real. A fair amount of humour punctuates the drama, especially as they do the rounds visiting eccentric aunts and relatives piling them with food and drink. The construction of Wajib will no doubt draw comparisons with Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten and Taste of Cherry, which in many ways is no bad thing. But it is also a film that stands firmly on its own two feet, packing a lot within a trim 97 minutes and acting as another reminder of the strength of Palestinian filmmaking.