Warring ideas about nationalism, identity and reality come to heads between a father and his estranged son in Wajib, a new Palestinian feature film from director Annemarie Jacir.
Shadi, played by Saleh Bakri, is a young man returning home to Palestine to help with the organisations for his younger sisters upcoming wedding. His father Abu Shadi, played by Mohammad Bakri, is overjoyed at his sons return at first, but their political, social and cultural differences soon become apparent. As is tradition, the two of them set out to hand deliver all 340 wedding invitations whilst also trying to reconnect with one another on the journey. The title Wajib translate to 'duty' - this being the task that they are set out to complete.
Wajib, whilst being an intimate portrayal of a disconnect between father and son, is a humorous film - a typo on the invitations and some rather odd wedding guests are sources of amusement throughout. Though the crux of the film centres on Abu Shadi and Shadi's relationship, there are many relatable moments and plenty which anyone who has ever returned home and spent inordinate amounts of time with a parent will completely understand. In this case, Shadi clearly feels that he has outgrown his life in Nazareth, and by default the people too. He abhors the traditions (he is none too happy with the task of delivering the invitations), passes disparaging comments about the town being run down and has a real issue with the townspeople using tarp on their balconies.
Through the narrative, it emerges that Shadi has been living with his girlfriend in Italy - a situation which Abu Shadi vocally disaproves of. Abu Shadi may as well be disapproving of Shadi's entire lifestyle and his new Westernised identity. Similarly, Shadi's dismissal of the architecture, aesthetics and culture of Nazareth feels like a very personal attack on his father - a man who has lived there his entire life. Even this is a sticking point, Shadi feels more knowledgeable and educated because he has 'got out' of Palestine, and insults his father for never having left. Almost a metaphor for the way the conflict between Israel and Palestine is discussed in the West and Europe, much of the men's dispute comes down to feelings about their own identity, and the way in which they personally perceive the situation. A surprise wedding guest is a catalyst for the bulk of Abu Shadi and Shadi's argument - and the poignancy of this is not lost on the viewer.
The Christmas time setting is essential to the tension between Al Shabib and Shabib - the time of year is a constant reminder of the divided land they call home. The setting, Nazareth, is important not only to the men as their hometown but also as the birthplace of Christ and a piece of land which is at the forefront of dispute between Israelis and Palestinians. This dispute is articulated through Abu Shadi and Shadi, first as minor swipes at one another, later as a full blown public argument.
Christmas also connotes the idea of family, a time of returning home to loved ones which is another bone of contention for both men. Shadi and Amal's mother is expected to attend the wedding, but certain setbacks fracture the family once more.
The two leads carry the weight of the film as they drive the battered Volvo around the narrow streets of Nazareth. Real life father and son, Saleh Bakri and Mohammad Bakri play their respective parts with natural authenticity. Saleh hits every note as the son irritated by the seemingly meaningless traditions of yesteryear. Equally, Mohammed gives a genuine and heartfelt performance as Abu Shadi - a man who has been broken but still wants the best for his children in a world where that may be just out of reach.
Well written dialogue and two stellar performances are what make this a very special film. Though the premise of a father and son reconnecting is not at all original, the context of Wajib breathes new life into an old story.