The 61st BFI London Film Festival: Wajib Review

Annemarie Jacir, a Palestinian poet and filmmaker, is – to me – the true queen of independent cinema; she is also the voice of those who need to be heard and seen – the ‘voice’ of Palestine. Her career has been marked by unforgettable (and several award-winning) projects, such as A Post Oslo History (2001), The Satellite Shooters (2001) and Like Twenty Impossibles (2003). Her immense directing talent is clearly visible in her feature films, such as the 2012 drama When I Saw You, as well as the critically acclaimed Salt of This Sea (2008). Both projects have been imprinted in my mind and since then, I really look forward to seeing her new works. Wajib (Duty) is Jacir’s ‘fresh-off-the-boat’, third full-length film, and it is a captivating and bitter-sweet portrait of a relationship between a father and his son.

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Abu Shadi (Mohammad Bakri: Of Kings and Prophets, Tyrant (TV series), Marriage and Other Disasters) is a divorced man in his mid-sixties, who teaches at a local school under the strict control of the Israeli authorities. He lives in Nazareth, “the Arab capital of Israel”, and is currently preparing for his daughter Amal’s (Maria Zreik) wedding. As an old custom requires, there is a duty (‘wajib’), that must be performed by the father (or a family member); it is to personally deliver the wedding invitations “house to house, Nazareth-style”, a mammoth task as the more invites one gives away, the more one is respected by their relatives, friends and colleagues. Nevertheless, Abu is not alone in this, his son Shadi (Saleh Bakri: The Source, When I Saw You) – after years of absence – arrives from Italy to help his father out. The duty involves hours of driving up and down the city and while travelling around Nazareth, inevitably there will be some ups and downs to the ‘journey’ – Abu and Shadi are forced to spend a full day together while on the ‘mission’.

From the first minute of the film, it is obvious that there is much to be expressed between the father and the son. While Abu lives his life peacefully, awaiting a promotion, his son, on the other hand, lives abroad as his strong political views towards the Israeli government were not to everyone’s taste. Shadi wants to live a free life rather than to be under the control of others: “(…) is this living?! (…) It is forbidden to even mention our own history at school!” shouts the young man in response to his father’s words that he is happy to live the way he lives in Nazareth. Will they come to an agreement by the end of their one-day ‘journey’?

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Wajib is a film not only about the family relations, it also paints a picture of two generations: one that does not necessarily seek to change the way of life and one that is fed up with the situation and the country being in an occupation-like state. Wajib is a well-thought-out project, clever and unique in its own way; with its realistic and effective dialogues,  it excellently reflects Abu’ and Shadi’s individual characters. Antoine Héberlé’s camerawork did more than just light the scenes; he drew on different palettes of colours to paint the world that Abu lives in and that Shadi left. Jacques Comets’ very well-executed editing successfully determined the structure and the pace of the film; he really helped Jacir tell the story efficiently. 

I found something oddly compelling about this film, its atmosphere and its characters. Undoubtedly, Mohammad’ and Saleh’s (father and son in real life as well) performances fit well with the roles of Abu and Shadi, and they made the plot come to life. Annemarie Jacir cleverly balanced the narrative of both men with political views on current affairs affecting the Palestinian population in Israel, which makes watching Wajib an immensely fine experience that truly captivates a viewer.

Rating: 3 stars

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Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Sanja Struna

All Photos © Wajib 

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